Governor talks economic development, flooding
by barbara anne greene
Council members, mayors, town manager and clerks from Greybull, Basin and Manderson met Gov. Matt Mead at Greybull Town Hall Wednesday to discuss the ice jams that affected the towns and county in March.
Greybull Mayor Bob Graham opened the meeting by thanking the governor for coming. Mead, who was joined by his policy analyst Colin Mckee, addressed the group, then opened the floor for questions.
“2011 as you recall was a bad flood year,” said Mead. “We spend a lot of money as a state.”
Mead said the average moisture level in the state is higher now than it was in 2011. Big Horn County is No. 1 in the state right now in the terms of flooding. “We are very concerned about it. With what happened with the ice blockage the guard packed over 100,000 sandbags,” he said. “They didn’t have to deploy all of those. I’ve told the guard and Homeland Security the issue on these floods is there is no use in putting out sandbags after the fact. “
He said they are going to be very aggressive and hit spots hard if it looks like there is going to be a problem. Even though the weather may change, he will be O.K with the criticism. “What I’m not O.K. with is for us not to do everything we can before the water hits,” he said. “You all let us know if it is coming and we will be there.”
Mead anticipates that fires will be an issue this summer. “When you have good spring moisture you are going to have big summer fires. There is going to be a lot of material out there. We are already planning for fire season just in case.”
Mead said two budget sessions ago he requested and received $155 million dollars in funding: An initial $135 million plus an additional 20 million for the supplement budget.
“When we went into this budget session, we did an analysis of what our revenue was and I felt very comfortable when the counties, municipalities and others said they wanted about $174 million. We rounded that up to $175 million.” He went on to say there was some doubt during the legislative session on whether it would be approved but it was.
While it may be good news, he said that once it is spread out, no town, county or municipality is getting a huge boost. Revenues for Wyoming are ahead of forecast per Mead so there will be another chance to look at the budget in a supplemental session but he wants people to keep in mind that the $175 million is more than the budget and supplement budget from two years ago.
“We are starting off in a better place as it comes to local funding,” he said. “I will continue to push for that. It is also my belief we recognize statewide all the different coffee cans we have depending on the market $16-17 billion dollars in savings. And for a state of 580,000 give or take, that is a lot of savings.”
Mead cautioned that while this is serving the state very well, the market is the market and no one can predict what is going to be.
Mead said while savings are great the money also needs to be invested in to infrastructure…roads, sewers, bridges have value every day and add to the economic development and safety. “I will continue to push that issue on local funding.”
David Cooper, mayor pro-tem of Basin, thanked the governor for his support of the towns and the monies for infrastructure. Mead talked about how across Wyoming there are water systems that are 50 to 60 years old with tile pipes. “Remember our economic development priority one is not recruiting new business. Priority one is keeping the businesses you have. They will not stay if they can’t get water.”
He recently traveled to Alberta Canada to see an industrial park that is roughly 300 square miles. The Canadians had an area they wanted to put infrastructure into and invite industry to come in. Everything from refineries to petrol chemical issues. Having them in close proximity would be beneficial. The example the governor gave was, “If you have one plant here and one in another part of the country, this plant may have a waste product that it has to deal with in an environmentally friendly way. But that other plant over there may consider it feed stock.” By co-locating many types of industries you get the advantage of having what may be waste to one being useful to the other. “The symbiotic value of having them together in a place where they can help each other with many different things including innovation, technology and workforce”.
Mead said he had visited with some legislators last session and the state is trying to move forward with this idea. While they don’t have a location or size selected yet, the idea of keeping the processing of Wyoming’s minerals (bentenite, oil, coal, uranium) in state instead of shipping out for processing would add value to those products. “When you add value to the products you add value to the economy and strength of jobs,” he said.
They are going about developing the process of site selection, what is the state’s role and what does the state want to see. Mead said they will be inviting private industry to be involved in the process.
In Mead’s view coal is under attack by the federal government. “It is problematic. The problem partly starts with a fundamental lack of knowledge by the public as a whole about where energy comes from.” Forty percent of the electricity in this country is produced by coal, said Mead. He went on to say coal is a wonderful resource that provides inexpensive fuel and if coal is taken out of the mix it is going to be individuals not companies that pay for that. “The cost of everything will go up. Food, transportation, housing costs.”
Mead spoke about the Visual Haze Rule which is an act from the federal government that said they are going back to a point in time and are going to look out and say this is what the air looked like. “It is not a health standard. It is not a safety standard. It is what you can visibly see in the air.”
“The western states said they were going to go back and we want the air to look like it did at that point in time.” This happened prior to Mead taking office. Wyoming began working on a state implementation plan on how to get to that point. The state came up with a plan and presented it to the federal government last year. It was rejected and the feds said Wyoming had to have the federal plan. “The difference between the state plan and federal plan is that the state gets to the same point a couple of years later but during that period of time what you visibly can see there is no difference.” The other difference between the plans is that the federal plan cost hundreds of millions dollars more, according to Mead. “Company A isn’t paying for it. You’re paying for it. I’m paying for it. The economy is paying for it and the manufacturing are paying for it”
“We will be in litigation on this undoubtedly.”
Mead said the state already has already seven or eight law suits against the EPA.
INTEGRATED TEST CENTER FOR COAL
Mead said he asked the legislature for $15 million for an integrated test center, which they granted. “The state will build the facility near a coal plant and get the stream off the plant. Rather than saying this is pollution, we tell these scientists find a use for it. We know it has CO2 in it. We know enhanced oil recovery is important. What else can we use that for?”
Another issue with the EPA is what they did on the Wind River Indian Reservation. “I respect the tribes have a point of view on where the boundaries are. But what bothers me about what happened there is that the EPA came into the state of Wyoming without notifying me, without notifying any state officials and said we are redefining the state boundaries by an excess of a million acres.”
“They notified us after the fact. So you get a clear picture this is a regulatory agency. This is not congress. It is a regulatory agency coming into the state of Wyoming and redefining state boundaries. This is an issue that should be paid attention to by citizens across the country.”
“We have had some remarkable success working with the legislature to expand broadband connectivity speeds across the state of Wyoming.” Connectivity can be a huge equalizer with telemedicine, tele-education and telecommuting. “I have pushed that and I can tell you that companies recognize what Wyoming has. Microsoft has upped their ante in Wyoming to 500 million dollars. They do it because we have low cost electricity, low cost connectivity and a good work force. They do it for cooling cost … cause everyone can tell you Wyoming is cooler than Texas.”
Barry Bryant, president of the Greybull chamber and superintendent of Big Horn County School District No. 3, brought up how the chamber is opening a Museum of Flight.
“Our biggest resource untapped here is tourists. We wave at them when they go by and wave at them when they come back by,” said Bryant, who said there may be an application to the SLIB for funding the museum.
“I would be excited about that,” said Mead. “Just flying in today I was looking at those planes, with tourism being our second largest industry.”
Last week he attended the Wyoming Chamber Partnership’s award banquet. “Part of my discussion there was I can go through where Wyoming is economically and we appreciate the chambers support across the state.”
“Economic development through tourism is huge. Remember two years ago when natural gas prices were falling through the floor. As a matter of fact we had meetings where people said you are going to have to pay to get rid of natural gas. That was the state of this great recession. But that same year tourism cut this trend line that was straight up. It is a nice sustaining industry in Wyoming.
“I’ve added dollars to tourism because it isn’t just the direct dollars from tourism. A lot of people that went here on their honeymoon or vacationed here three years in a row they chose Wyoming. It is nice to be chosen.”
“Landfills are going to continue to be an issue,” said Mead. The state has set aside $45 million with $17 million available now to help with landfill closures. The strict requirements make it hard for small communities to come up with the match, said Mead. He suggested that the Wyoming Association of Municipalities look at the requirements to see if they are too restrictive. Big Horn County has been recommended for a grant and loan to close the south end landfill and build a transfer station. (This application was approved by the SLIB on May 1)
QUESTIONS/DICUSSION WITH AUDIENCE
Manderson Mayor Randy Brown expressed his concern about the damage done to the dike during the ice jams. The town has sent a request to the SLIB for an emergency grant. The repair will take $975,000. (The grant was approved on May 6)
Greybull Mayor Bob Graham asked the governor what he could do to get the National Guards C-130s in Cheyenne brought to Greybull for repair at B&G Industries. Mead said he didn’t have a good answer but has talked about the issue with some of the powers involved in that process. “Part of the guard is funded by the federal government. There are certain things on the rules. I don’t know exactly where we are at on this but I will make a note and try to get back to you with a better answer.”
Commissioner Keith Grant discussed a meeting with the Forest Service. “The biggest issue with haze is forest fires. The federal government won’t recognize that.” Mead agreed and said he has testified about the haze issue in Cheyenne at a regional haze hearing. “Which point in time you choose for regional haze allows you to manipulate everything afterwards. Who says what the right visibility is and the standard? It is so loosie goosey on what they are trying to do. “
“In mentioning that it not just regional haze. You need to do more in managing your forests.” Mead noted that the healthiest forest in Wyoming is in the Black Hills where they have had active timbering for over 100 years. “There are more trees today than there was 100 years ago. That shows what active management and responsible timbering can do.”
Mead said he has been working with the legislature to find a way for the state to help to manage the forest. The forest service and BLM have indicated they are not getting the staff they need on the ground. “Particularly in the southern portion of the state where a sawmill is opening back up in the Saratoga area. If that is the stall, you don’t have the manpower. It is in our interest to help with the manpower so we can have more active timbering in that area.”
Commissioner Jerry Ewen expressed a concern about the access to public lands. “We just finished up our statewide county commissioner meeting last week and an item that is more and more central to our conversation is our concern about the access to the public lands,” said Ewen. “That is our life blood. Our access to the reserves, resources of public land. There are more and more layers of control being established. Which pretty much means access becomes more and more limited.” Ewen said there is movement to begin the process to resume the control over public lands. He asked the governor where he stands on this.
“Federal land management issues are so complex.” Mead gave the example of how last spring the east entrance to Yellowstone was going to have a delayed opening because there was no money to plow, according to the Park Service. They blamed the money shortage on the sequester. The Cody chamber raised money to pay for the snowplows and the governor authorized the Wyoming Department of Transportation to come up there.
“Wyoming is a little over 50 percent owned by the federal government on the surface. Utah looked at enabling language for statehood. They have moved forward in saying that these federal grounds actually belong to the state. So the question was, can we do that in Wyoming?” He asked the Wyoming attorney general to look at that. The attorney general’s view was that each state has a little bit different language in terms of statehood. He concluded that Wyoming’s language was not quite as strong as Utah’s. However Wyoming will be watching what happens in Utah.
Mead said in Wyoming probably doesn’t want to take over all federal lands. The examples he gave were Warren Air Force Base and missile sites throughout Wyoming. “We see in checkerboard areas for example southwest Wyoming,” said Mead. “If you can’t afford to manage them let’s look at the state taking over the some of that ground and not only solving a problem. Turning it into an asset that the state can manage well. We have a greater motivation than anyone from Washington and greater expertise. Not only in land issues but wildlife too.”
“We can do it better and we can do it responsibly. If Utah has success we will look at it. We will also need to be prepared because there will be a high expectation that that access will be there and we do the job we said we could do if we take those lands.”
Mayor Graham asked about a state section of land east of Greybull that he feels the town could manage better. “We nominated that land last year to the SLIB for the use for the town of Greybull but there were some issues out there with some clean up. It was stopped at the staff level because of the clean up. It has now moved forward because DEQ gave them a plan to clean that up. It is in the appropriations bill it should go to bid in June. Cleaned up by August.”
Mead said that the state has blocks around the state of 40 acres here, 80 acres there that are only bringing in $200 a year. “We need large blocks of land because it is easier for us to manage. You can actually get a grazing lease on it.” The state should be open to those being nominated for a town, county, municipality or a private to take over. There should be a way to sell or swap this land, he said.