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Powell, WY

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Editorials

The city of Powell held a public hearing Monday evening to discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2010-11.

Despite a public notice printed in the June 10 edition of the Tribune and a subsequent front page story reminding readers of the hearing, not a single Powell resident attended to pose questions, to learn details or to express approval or disapproval of the proposed budget.

Given the flood of online comments and letters to the editor in response to nearly every Tribune story regarding city spending, the lack of attendance comes as a surprise.

The new aquatic center, Homesteader Park, Powellink, the pending landfill closure — all hot-button issues for online comments and all major factors in the city budget — along with the standard salary information, utility operations and the like elicited not a single comment from Powell residents.

It seems the passionate folks who weigh in anonymously via online comments — as well as those who put pen to paper and sign their names to letters to the editor — in this case failed to recognize the value of face-to-face dialogue, discussion and debate afforded by public hearings. Or maybe it's simply easier to hide behind a letter or the anonymity of online forums.
City Attorney Sandee Kitchen made three calls for speakers at Monday's meeting, but the silence was deafening.

City officials and councilmen frequently are criticized for failing to consider public input.

In this case — as is the case with every year's budget — the city specifically sought public input, and there was none.

A 20-year effort to protect land near Yellowstone National Park from mining was resolved recently, but Park County residents will experience the mine's lingering effects as cleanup begins.

Wyoming's scenic Chief Joseph Highway will be the route for trucks hauling at least 48,700 tons of mine tailings during summer 2011.

The contaminated waste must be removed from a defunct gold mine near Cooke City, Mont. — a site that ignited a firestorm of controversy in the 1990s after the mining company Noranda sought to mine gold just three miles outside of Yellowstone National Park.

Thankfully, its mining plans were foiled, and today the beloved national park is protected from large-scale mining development.

Unfortunately, thousands of tons of pollutants remain at the mine site near Cooke City and are at risk of seeping into Soda Butte Creek and eventually running into Yellowstone's waterways.

A cleanup effort spearheaded by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality calls for trucks to haul tons of the harmful mine tailings over Wyoming's Chief Joseph Highway.

As a public highway, the scenic route is open to commercial traffic — an unfortunate reality for motorists who will find themselves sharing the road with heavy trucks.

Though Montana's cleanup plan has been in the works for years, officials in Park County apparently were unaware of the project and didn't realize that the highway would be the route for trucks hauling toxic mine tailings.

With Wyoming responsible for maintaining the highway, it's unsettling that Wyoming Department of Transportation officials weren't informed of cleanup plans until after the project was sent out to bid.

Given the history of dispute over the mining project and use of the highway, it's also disappointing that there wasn't an open line of communication between Montana officials and those in Park County.

EDITORIAL: Put your phone down

Put your phone down

On July 1, a law goes into effect making it illegal to text while driving on our state's roads and highways.

While it remains to be seen how, exactly, the law will be enforced, few can argue that it's an important step in keeping our highways safe.

A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (one of the world's largest vehicle safety research organizations) found that drivers distracted by texting increased their likelihood of having a crash or near-crash event 23-fold.

Yes, it bears repeating: A driver's risk of being in an accident or a close call increases by 23 times when the driver is texting.

For the sake of comparison, another study by the Virginia Tech institute indicates drivers increase their risk of a crash or near-crash by three times when dialing a cell phone and 1.3 times when talking on a phone.

The study indicates the highest risk comes when drivers eyes are distracted from the roadway — when dialing or reading and sending texts.

According to a New York Times story about the study, texting drivers “typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than a length of a football field.”

Unfortunately, it's an all-too-common sight around here to see a weaving vehicle — in town or speeding down the highway — piloted by a driver who is texting feverishly and glancing toward the roadway only periodically.

It's scary stuff. Especially considering that some of the most frequent texters are the least experienced drivers.

Beginning July 1, law enforcement will be on the lookout for offenders. But given the enormous risks — to texting drivers and others who share the roadway with them — it's also up to drivers to police themselves.

And, since young drivers are unlikely to be reading Tribune editorials: Parents, please make sure your youngsters are aware of the huge risks of texting while driving before they get behind the wheel.

News of the city of Powell's decision to purchase the $6.5 million Powellink bond was met with mixed reactions last week.

Some are critical of the city's choice to invest its enterprise reserves in the bond, while others applaud city leaders for what they see as a fiscally responsible action.

Part of the skepticism comes from the city's change in course. Originally, the bond was to be held by a private investor, and the city was to obtain ownership in about 20 years. During development plans several years ago, Powell citizens also were assured that no public money would go toward the fiber-optic network.

In an agreement expected to be finalized this week, the city will invest $6.5 million from its enterprise reserves toward the Powellink bond — owning the network early, opening it to other service providers sooner and, yes, using public money toward the investment.

The recent development certainly is a change of course, but by the numbers, it will provide more money for the city of Powell. As more subscribers sign up for Powellink, the city's rate of return will increase. Even if Powellink subscriptions stay at around 450 — the number TCT currently has — the city of Powell still will receive more than $11,000 per month on its investment.

The $6.5 million in reserves formerly was invested in the local government investment pool WYO-STAR, where in recent months, it drew an interest rate of only 0.8 percent or less. In May, the investment provided just $4,000 back to the city — about a third of what will be earned through the Powellink investment.

It's understandable that citizens are surprised and even upset by the recent decision, especially given that public funding will go toward what was marketed as a private venture.

Yet, strictly looking at the numbers, we also understand why the city decided to invest its enterprise reserve funds in Powellink rather than WYO-STAR or another investment with dismal rates of return.

As one of the few municipalities with a citywide fiber-optic network, use of the reserves in the bond is a unique investment option for Powell — and one that could help the city persevere financially in difficult economic times.

As kids embrace the first weeks of summer vacation, nutritious school lunches and snacks likely are the furthest things from their minds. Local educators, however, already are planning for healthy snacks next year.

When local students return to their classrooms and cafeterias in August, it will be easier for them to eat their fruits and veggies.

All four elementary schools in Powell's district — Parkside, Westside, Southside and Clark — received fresh fruit and vegetable grants for the next school year.

The USDA program provides grant money for schools to make fresh fruit and vegetables available to all children outside regular meal times.

This aim to improve children's diets and overall health is a welcome initiative, especially given that childhood obesity has reached alarming levels in recent years.

Nearly 20 percent of American children ages 6-11 are obese, according to the 2007-08 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. By comparison, between 1976 and 1980, the obesity rate among 6- to 11-year-olds was just 6.5 percent.

Children who struggle with weight issues are more likely to struggle with health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It's also difficult for obese children to shed weight as they reach adolescence and adulthood.

By providing fresh fruit and vegetables for students during the school day, children will have healthy alternatives to sugary, unhealthy snacks — and, hopefully, develop an appreciation for apples, oranges, carrots and the like at a young age.

With the USDA grant money in place, it will be up to kids — as well as their parents and educators — to make sure they actually eat the fresh fruit and vegetables provided next school year.

Most people were snug in their beds when fire broke out at Treasure Valley Seed late Sunday evening — others were enjoying the long Memorial Day weekend with family and friends.

That may well have been the case for Powell volunteer firemen as well — until they were summoned to the inferno at the bean mill.

For the men of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department, and for their families and friends, it was nothing new. Week in and week out, day and night, the volunteers of the department abandon personal and professional activities — even sleep — at a moment's notice to ensure the safety of the community.

In the case of this weekend's fire, Powell firemen did an admirable job of quarterbacking an effort that involved Cody fire crews, MDU personnel, city employees and local businesses. Their quick response and their knowledge of how to fight the flames prevented what could have been a much bigger disaster.

Members of the fire department deserve to be commended for their commitment to community service and for the sacrifices they make on an almost daily basis.

Summer's arrival brings more motorcyclists to Wyoming's roads. With warm temperatures and longer days, some residents will opt to leave their cars in the garage and hit the road on their motorcycles.

Wyoming drivers sharing the highway with bikers need to be cautious and aware of motorcyclists' presence. Too often, distracted drivers fail to notice an oncoming motorcyclist.

Last year, 13 people died in motorcycle crashes in Wyoming, according to the state's Department of Transportation.

Just this spring, a few vehicles have collided with motorcyclists in the Powell area. Recently, a motorcyclist in Ralston was injured after a driver didn't see him and turned into his path. Thankfully, the man riding the Harley-Davidson survived the wreck.

These crashes reiterate the need for drivers to take an extra moment to look twice for motorcyclists, especially at intersections.

For motorcyclists and drivers on the same roadways, safety is a two-way street.

All motorcyclists should wear helmets, even if Wyoming law doesn't require them to.

Wearing helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists' lives in 2008, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's simple — helmets save lives.

Northwest Wyoming's highways lead to spectacular summer sights — but motorcyclists and drivers alike must be cautious when sharing roadways to ensure everyone arrives safely at their destinations.

The Northwest College community — administration, staff, faculty and students — recently has endured several long months of turmoil.

A longtime staff member was fired, recruiting letters from President Prestwich — on college letterhead — created an uproar by targeting only LDS students, and two faculty members' contracts were not renewed.

The events pitted faculty and administration against each other in a power struggle of epic proportions. The NWC Board of Trustees hired a mediator to attempt to resolve the conflict, and the mediation process will begin this fall.

Since the mediator was hired, six student athletes were suspended for violating the athletic code of ethics, two of the college's vice presidents have resigned and several faculty members have retired or resigned.

According to NWC Human Resources Director Heather Kobbe, this year's turnover rate for the 82-member faculty is around 10 percent — including four resignations, three retirements and a single involuntary termination. Similarly, the 11.5 percent turnover for staff members included 12 resignations, four retirements and one involuntary termination.

At first blush, it may appear that staff and faculty are jumping ship due to the recent state of affairs. But, in reality, it's a pretty average rate of attrition. People retire, relocate or seek other job opportunities all the time — it's just part of the working world.

What is now unknown is what the NWC community's next step will be: Will the feuding groups continue to “stir the pot” and create more upheaval? Or will the parties declare a truce — albeit a tenuous one — and agree to move forward toward the common goal of creating the best possible educational opportunities and college environment for NWC students?

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.”

The last several months have been exceedingly painful for those involved, but Northwest College isn't dead — and the possible restructuring of the administration, new blood in the faculty and administration ranks and fresh faces on the college staff may well make NWC stronger than ever. It could be viewed as a rebirth of sorts.

It's now up to the parties involved to choose to be part of a solution, instead of perpetuating the problems.

On Monday, Powell was dealt one of its harshest economic blows of the recession. Weatherford International, a company with established roots in the community, announced it was closing its Powell manufacturing facility by October — ultimately affecting about 40 employees.

For dozens of families in Powell, the recession suddenly became very personal.

This loss isn't limited to Weatherford employees. The closure of the manufacturing facility — and reduction of higher-paying jobs in the area — will impact local trucking companies, lumberyards, supply stores and other businesses.

Adding to dreary economic conditions, some sugar beet growers still reeling from last year's devastating loss recently began replanting a portion of this year's crop after inclement weather struck local fields. Though not as crippling as last October's frost at harvest time, the unwelcome cold snap was a discouraging way to start the new season.

Amidst recent downturns, local leaders are hoping to rejuvenate Powell's economy with a restructured development plan.

A study conducted by National Community Development Services recommending restructuring of the Powell Valley Economic Development Alliance was presented to leaders this week.

One of the recommendations was that the local group pursue a regional alliance by approaching Forward Cody, our neighboring city's economic development organization. But first, a reorganized board for the Powell Valley Economic Development Alliance must be formed. Paul Prestwich has accepted the role of sparking that reorganization.

We hope business and community leaders, as well as others in Powell, respond to this initiative and join together to develop a strong economic development plan.

Though it's difficult to see Powell's economy take hits, it is encouraging that an economic development effort is in the works. A strong plan could position Powell for a brighter economic future.

In a region where wolves never were welcome, management of the species continues to hit a nerve among many residents.

Fifteen years after wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, locals continue to wear their hearts on their sleeves — or, as the case may be, their vehicles' bumpers. Trucks branded with anti-wolf slogans are common sights, with mantras like “Smoke a pack a day” or “Welcome to Wyoming; Take a wolf and leave.”

Residents and political leaders voiced ongoing frustration Saturday during a Wolf Impact Rally in Cody, again calling for wolves to be taken off the endangered species list.

Delisting wolves in Wyoming would allow the animals to be hunted as they are in Idaho and Montana. Wolves remain protected in Wyoming after the federal government rejected the state's Wolf Management Plan, mainly because the plan calls for wolves to be shot on sight in much of the Cowboy State.

Though the predator status has been contested since the plan was drafted in 2007, many Wyoming leaders remain unwilling to budge.

GOP gubernatorial candidates reiterated their support for the plan during the wolf rally.

House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, wrote on his campaign website that he “firmly believe(s) that the ‘predator' status outside of the designated ‘trophy game' area is appropriate and reasonable.”

In a letter, State Auditor Rita Meyer called the plan “a well-thought out, balanced approach that meets the needs of Wyoming residents.”

What Wyoming needs is a governor who will revisit the current Wolf Management Plan and consider a compromise on the proposed predator status.

For the past three years, state leaders have pushed Wyoming's Wolf Management Plan, only to become embattled in ongoing legal disputes.

Wyoming's plan needs to be revised, especially its proposed predator zone.

Without revisions to the current plan, we fear that wolves will remain on the endangered species list for years to come. With certain revisions, it's possible controlled wolf hunts could begin in Wyoming, as they have in Idaho and Montana.

Those most concerned about wolves' effects on livestock and dwindling elk populations should agree that controlled wolf hunting is better than none at all.

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