The company trying to open the first new coal mine in Wyoming in decades is pushing to rezone its Sheridan County property for a research and development project to find uses for coal beyond burning it in power plants.
The county planning and zoning commission recommended zoning property southeast of Ranchester as light industrial in a four-to-one vote Thursday night.
It took three hours to get through the divided public comment period, with people lining the hallway outside the room and local business owners and landowners speaking up, according to those present.
Some see the research facility as a false promise and the area proscribed for industrial zoning, currently zoned agricultural, as a valued outdoor recreation area. Other agree with the company, which argues that the site has long been planned as a potential industrial area that is already bordered by a railroad and bisected by the highway.
Ramaco Wyoming Coal Co. put on a presentation highlighting the chance to bring jobs and economic development to Sheridan County through the iCAM and iPark, two branches of their long-term goal of developing Wyoming coal. The carbon rich rock, they argue, can be used for a number of products that are currently extracted from petroleum. It can also be turned into lightweight materials of great strength.
The company is distancing the research arm of its plans from the contentious debate over the proposed Brook Mine. Ramaco was denied a coal permit last year over environmental concerns in its mine plan. From subsidence risks to water concerns, a number of potential neighbors lobbied for the mine plan to be redone. The company is fighting the rejection, while remedying the plan with the state regulators.
The research facility will benefit from a Department of Energy grant to Ramaco’s partner, the Western Research Institute in Laramie, to study reducing the cost of creating carbon fiber from coal. If all goes well, the research facilities could break ground this spring, a spokeswoman for the company said.
Some locals aren’t convinced. They recently went through a lengthy, and at times caustic, battle with Ramaco over the mine. A former spokesman for Ramaco referred to the group of landowners as “stupid hippies.“
The research idea sounds dubious, the critics say.
The area has seen new ideas come in with flare and leave with disappointment, from petroleum research to the large Two Elk coal research fiasco in neighboring Campbell County that ended in fraud charges.
Jill Morrison, an organizer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which fought the mine permit, said her group is pessimistic about Ramaco’s claims.
“They are making a lot of false promises about bringing this science and technology research facility here,” she said. “It’s razzle dazzle. Look at this shiny object. But in reality what is really there?”
More importantly for the opposition, which includes many of those opposed to the Brook Mine, the area is used for recreation, agriculture and hunting. They don’t want an industrial complex there.
“In the last 20 years there’s been a huge effort to make … the Tongue River this recreational corridor,” Jill Morrison said. ““What people were saying is, ‘we don’t oppose them doing this, but do it in the industrial park.’”
Tony Wendtland, a lawyer representing Ramaco on the zoning issue, said the area is practically industrial already and has been an area designated as potentially industrial in county planning documents for years.
The area has two interchanges on its sides, gravel quarries, railroads and roads, he said.
“It’s not an effort to plunk this down in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
In any case, the company owns the land, just as industry companies did before it going back to a coal mining company decades ago.
“I just want what’s fair for this company,” Wendtland said.
Though the meeting Thursday was contentious, Wendtland said he thought those in support outweighed the opposition.
Some of the fears expressed were based on false information, he said.
“I heard people last night say, ‘well you’re going to put a chemical plant near my house.” he said. “If you’re at this meeting opposing a chemical plant, you’re at the wrong meeting.”
Part of the dispute over this research park is a dispute over what the company says in its application and what others argue is the actual story.
Many of those opposed submitted letters detailing their disagreements with the Ramaco’s application to rezone.
John Buyok, who’s property is near the proposed mine site, took issue with a company claim that the facility was not hazardous.
The company will be working with coal pitch, the engineer and rancher wrote.
“Sheridan County already has one EPA Superfund site due to contamination during production of this same material,” Buyok said. “I doubt if the people of Sheridan County want to take a chance of having another Superfund site on the banks of the Tongue River due to this same toxic substance.”
Wendtland, the zoning lawyer, said the plant is no more dangerous than the Western Research labs, which are located in a residential neighborhood of Laramie.
Buyok and others also pointed out concerns about water, power and septic systems which currently do not exist on the property.
The company intends to install them according to state environmental standards, said Wendtland.
Other letters have also made their way up to Sheridan County over the Ramaco pitch for carbon research. The plan has found support from Gov. Matt Mead, who said it was good for diversification, as well as the Wyoming Mining Association and the governor’s ENDOW Initiative.
The final say on the rezoning efforts will come down to the Sheridan County Commissioners. They are due to address the request in early March.
Bill Schilling quietly glided through the trees Thursday on Casper Mountain, his arms swinging methodically with his skis.
His bright red vest stood out among the muted whites and browns of the snow-covered pines. At 72 years old, Schilling moved gracefully on his skis, his age hard to detect beyond the wrinkles around his eyes.
No matter it was the coldest morning of the week — according to Schilling, the cross country skiing gets better as the temperature drops. The crunch of snow beneath his poles becomes louder, the air burns clearer in his lungs, the silence becomes even more crisp. There’s little glamour in the sport, but it opens up another world to Schilling.
“I just get into the rhythm of the stride,” he said. “And I love the silence — the silence of solitude.”
Schilling has skied for decades, ever since he moved to Minneapolis in the 1970s and needed a hobby for the fleeting days of winter. After work, he would ski across Lake Harriet, enjoying the solitude and the dark.
Over the next 20 years, he skied hundreds of miles. But in recent years, the quasi-retired former president of the Wyoming Business Alliance and Wyoming Heritage Foundation has had little time for the sport as his calendar has filled with commitments: spearheading Leadership Wyoming, leading Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW executive council and serving with his Rotary Club, among other involvements.
So now, after barely skiing for the past four years, he plans to take on a 33-mile cross country race — roughly the distance between downtown Casper and Alcova.
On March 14, Schilling and a friend from Laramie will travel to Rena, Norway, to compete in the Birkebeiner ski race. Three days later, the pair will join more than 17,000 others attempting to make the journey through forests, over bare mountain terrain and ski up over two passes. The race is considered the most difficult of the Worldloppet Ski Federation races, a series of competitions across five continents.
The race commemorates the 13th-century rescue of an infant Norwegian prince. As the legend goes, two skiers rescued the 18-month-old child from capture by a warring faction. They carried the child to safety over the mountains to the city of Trondheim. That prince later became the king who united Norway after 1,000 years of civil war.
Participants now have to carry a backpack weighing at least eight pounds, symbolizing the weight of the child. Schilling will be 73 when he starts the race, putting him squarely among the “old fogeys” who cross the starting line first. While the race is well known, the track is only accessible by vehicle at three points. If something goes wrong, help takes a bit of time.
Schilling had always wanted to complete the Norwegian Birkebeiner — it was a bucket list item — but he had never made any serious plans until his friend in Laramie reached out in August. His friend said that he was planning to complete the race and invited Schilling to come as well. After a brief hesitation, Schilling agreed.
“Now we’ve been talking about it for so long I can’t back out,” he joked.
The plaque he won for completing the series — the 96th person to do so — still hangs on his wall. But the race that stands out to him most was the 62-mile Finlandia marathon in Bemidji, Minnesota.
The race was split into two days: 31 miles on Saturday and 31 miles on Sunday. On the first day of the race, about 40 skiers lined up at the start in the minus 40 degree weather. About half the skiers were professionals from Scandinavian countries. Schilling knew he was outmatched.
“They took off like they were in Ferraris,” he recalled. “And I was driving a beat up ‘60s Volkswagen.”
But competing in the races was never about winning for Schilling. He describes himself as a “plodder” — slow but steady.
More important than medals or trophies, the races give him goals to work toward and a sense of accomplishment (as well as entertaining anecdotes to share). To train for the March race, Schilling has been working out almost every day: walking, working with his personal trainer, riding a stationary bike and, of course, skiing.
On Sunday, he worked out for a half hour with his personal trainer and then walked three miles along the river trails. It was a rest day.
In total, he estimated he’s been training about 12 hours a week for the race. He’s gained strength in muscles he hasn’t used in years. It keeps him spry — he walks with energy and speaks with enthusiasm about skiing, Casper and his varied work.
If he doesn’t complete the race, he said, at least he tried. Although the grind is daunting and the potential achievement is solitary, he made the attempt. He’s not getting any younger, after all.
“You never know if you have five years of gas left in the tank or 20,” he said.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declassified a top-secret congressional memo Friday and suggested it proved the investigation of his presidential campaign and Russia was fatally flawed from the start. Democrats said the document did nothing to clear him or his campaign, and the FBI called the memo inaccurate and incomplete.
Butting heads just as they had before the memo's release, Trump and his critics stuck to the positions they had staked out in the weeks leading up to the hotly disputed release of the memo prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. The memo makes their case — and Trump's — that politically motivated abuses in the early stages of the FBI's investigation made it worse than worthless.
The Democrats, having none of it, said the four-page memo merely cherry-picks Republican talking points in an effort to smear law enforcement and undercut the current federal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, said the GOP document "mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information" and its release "will do long-term damage to the intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies."
The memo's central premise is that the FBI relied excessively on anti-Trump research funded by Democrats in seeking a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign associate and that federal authorities concealed the full details of who was paying for the information.
The disclosure of the document is extraordinary since it involves details about surveillance of Americans, national security information the government regards as among its most highly classified. Its release is likely to further escalate an intra-government conflict that has divided the White House and Trump's hand-picked law enforcement leaders.
Trump, who lashed out at the FBI and Justice Department on Friday morning, refused to express confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and is mentioned by name in the memo.
Asked if he was more likely to fire Rosenstein, and if he still had confidence in him, Trump retorted, "You figure that one out."
A senior White House official said later the administration expects Rosenstein to remain in his job.
Trump has been telling confidants he believed the memo would validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him. Though the document had been classified since it deals with warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the White House declassified it Friday and sent it to the intelligence committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, for immediate release.
The development also comes amid an ongoing effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to discredit the investigation by Mueller that focuses not only on whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia but also on whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Republicans seized on the memo's allegations to argue that the FBI's investigation was politically biased.
The memo does not address obstruction questions that have led Mueller to express interest in interviewing Trump. But it does reveal the FBI investigation actually began in July 2016, months before the warrant was even sought, based on information involving a separate Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, who has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Mueller inherited the probe in May 2017. Four people have so far been charged in his investigation.
Trump said Friday of the information in the memo: "I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace."
Earlier in the day, he tweeted: "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people."
The memo offered the first government confirmation that the FBI in October 2016 obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, on the basis that agents believed he might be an agent of a foreign power — Russia. That warrant was signed off on multiple times, including by Rosenstein.
In a statement, Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser and came on the FBI radar in 2013 as part of a separate counterintelligence probe, said, "The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America's democracy."
The memo asserts that opposition research conducted by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, "formed an essential part" of the initial application to receive the warrant. It's unclear how much or what information Steele collected was included in the application, or how much has been corroborated. Steele's research into Trump and Russia was compiled into a series of memos, or a dossier, containing salacious allegations.
The FBI routinely relies on multiple sources of information when it obtains surveillance warrants. And the memo makes clear that the FBI believed there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power and a judge agreed — four times over.
Five school administrators vying to become the new Kelly Walsh principal spoke to community members Thursday night, describing their leadership style and how they would handle bullying amid a growing conversation about school safety.
The five candidates are Mike Britt, the principal at Centennial Junior High; Christopher Dresang, an assistant principal at Natrona County High; Mark Fritz, the principal of Sheridan County’s Tongue River High; Gibson Ostheimer, the principal of Park Elementary; and Amy Rose, an assistant principal at Kelly Walsh.
The forum, held in Kelly Walsh’s auditorium, was moderated by student body president Hannah Henry and associate superintendent Verba Echols. Questions for the candidates were submitted ahead of time, and a total of five prompts — plus an opening and closing statement — were tackled by the prospective principals.
The questions included how the candidates’ would describe their leadership styles and how that approach would work in Kelly Walsh; how they as a KW principal would help struggling students; how they would handle what Henry described as a growing bullying concern; how they would emphasize special learning opportunities available to students; and how they saw their role in dealing with specialized students, like those with special needs.
The forum was held as the Natrona County School District has dealt with allegations of waterboarding at Kelly Walsh, a report that has prompted community members to describe their own struggles with bullying throughout the district. The District Attorney’s Office has said it will not press charges related to the incident and has disputed its characterization as waterboarding. A family member of the victim maintains the original report. The district has declined to comment, as have the victim and his parents.
It’s unclear how swiftly the district will move to announce the replacement for outgoing principal Brad Diller, who has run KW for 23 years and announced his retirement late last year. The district has asked for feedback on the candidates from the community through 5 p.m. Feb. 4 The school board meets Feb. 12.
Each candidate was given three minutes to answer the questions. For the sake of clarity and space, the Star-Tribune will quote the beginning and part of each candidate’s answer to the three of the questions. A recording of the entire forum can be found online.
Mark Fritz: “My leadership style is, I’m very visible, outgoing with students. I’m a very good role model for students. I’m in the hallways, I greet every kid when they come in. I also get to know them. At Tongue River, we’re very small. ... It’s really a 1-on-1 situation that I’m in, that I get to value that.”
“We want to teach the culture, and promote the culture, we want a very positive culture in our school, and with that comes the four pillars. That’s how we grow Tongue River right now. We want the best for our kids, we want that positive culture.”
Gibson Ostheimer: “As we know, Kelly Walsh’s four pillars are just pivotal to the culture of Kelly Walsh. And the growth of students within one of those four pillars or more is really why we come to work every day.”
“My leadership style is really more of a servant. When I go to Park school every day, my job is to provide for my staff so they can do their absolute best for their students. Every morning I’m in every classroom, saying how are you doing this morning. If I can meet their needs, they can meet the needs of every kid. The same thing is true at Kelly Walsh. I’m just one of those people who’s out there all the time.”
Mike Britt: “The first rule I came into my leadership roles at Evansville and Centennial with my office manager was this: If the door’s open, they come in, and it doesn’t matter if that’s a student, a staff member, a parent. And I’ve kept that as a strong characteristic of mine throughout my leadership career. ... The problem is, rarely will they see me in my office because I’m out and about, either working in a (professional learning community) with a student, in a classroom observing, working with kids.”
“I think my leadership style is strategic and I build very good teams.”
Chris Dresang: “I’m going to talk to you about three texts that describe my leadership style, and so if you want to read them, then you’ll know a little bit more about me as well. The first one is Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,’ and one of the chapters is about being proactive and I think that aligns really nicely with the pillar of acceptance.”
“The next book that will help you understand me and my style is by Neila Connors called ‘If You Don’t Feed Your Teachers, They Eat The Students.’ It’s very real. If you don’t celebrate teachers’ success and give them time and let them know that they’re important to you and your school, you can see it in your students in a very real way.”
“The last book is Simon Sinek’s ‘Leaders Eat Last,’ and it’s the idea of building a culture around your group. So it’s a tightknit group.”
Amy Rose: “To describe my leadership style, first off, over the years and in the 18 years I’ve been in education, it’s grown and it’s changed and it’s matured as I’ve grown up a little bit. Currently I believe that my leadership style is a servant leadership ... How I know that is I tend to acknowledge and value others through the process of the day, and in my day, if I can be part of someone else’s relationship, whether it’s a student or staff member, in any form, or a parent, then I know that my needs of how I lead are being met.
“I like to lead by example. I feel like I’m a great listener, and I’m definitely a problem-solver and I found that to be a very strong suit when I came to Kelly Walsh as activities director. The pillars are no joke, though. ... They are a piece of Kelly Walsh.”
MB: “The enforcement of the bullying policy can be, for most administrators, actually one of the easiest things we do. When we have an incident that occurs, it’s pretty cut and dry. We do an investigation or inquiry, we find out what happened and we provide the appropriate consequences.
“The difficulty as administrators and as a school family is more prevention and identification of those who are being bullied in our schools. It is the ultimate fire we’re trying to put out in our schools. ... Safety is our primary concern, learning is our mission. It always doesn’t matter what school you are, if you don’t feel safe at school, then no learning will occur. ... Students will be biggest part of our solutions.”
CD: “Absolutely the easiest part is board policy, it’s pretty cut and dry. The hardest part is the trail to get to board policy when bullying happens. I can’t tell you how many times I have someone come in my office and go, ‘I’m getting bullied.’ And so there’s two words that kind of make me bristle because every kid in my school is either my son or my daughter. I know it sounds cheesy, but it really is.
“So if my son’s getting bullied, I want to figure out what’s going on. I wish I could solve it in 10 minutes. It’s never that easy. and things like social media play a huge role in that. ... I think of it as a weed, and making sure you get every root of that weed stop and dies, but you know how weeds work: If you don’t get every root, it’s right back, it’s fresh as before.”
AR: “I take this question very seriously at this time. As the school administrator, we have a distinct and very personal responsibility to make sure all of our students are safe. And that doesn’t happen every day, and that is not an easy pill to swallow. School is real, life is real. ... Social media has changed the game around the school house, but bottom line our schools need to be a safe place to everyone.”
“In order to do that, we have to foster healthy environments within our school system. We need to build trust and integrity with all stakeholders, including our students and our parents in our overarching Casper community. We need to have high expectations for good behavior and taking care of each other.”
MF: “Bullying’s just not accepted. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s just not accepted, and we need to deal with it. And it needs to be dealt with at the lowest level possible, that’s what I’m talking about. A lot of times there’s red flags, a lot of times there’s things that students will tell me, especially in my school, that something is going on. And there’s no time to waste there. I will get the student right away, do an investigation, find out the information and find out both sides of the information.
“With bullying, too, sometimes there’s an act, and it’s really not bullying until it happens again. So I’m very clear with the student: You know what, this happened, and this won’t happen again. Or these consequences will be set out. ... We don’t have to make that hard, and it cannot be accepted. ... I’ve set behavior contracts with students before: You will stay away from this person, you will not look at this person, you will not do this, and parents will sign it, students will sign it.”
GO: “Every child that gets dropped off at school deserves to feel safe, and there’s just no excuse when they don’t, as has been stated, board policy is there. We now the consequence for bullying. In my leadership style, I just don’t ignore small stuff. When you’re in the hall and the student calls another student a name, as an adult in the building, you can let it go because kids are kids. Or you can address it. That little stuff, that’s where it becomes big stuff.
“And if we address the little stuff, if we hold each other, students, adults, if we hold each other to high expectations of behavior and we address small stuff, we can eliminate a lot of big stuff. I just don’t believe in ignoring little things. Dealing with students fairly and consistently, the investigative process is what it is, it takes time. But once that’s done, consequences are immediate.”