CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- A Natrona County commissioner hopes the state will apply some of the $6 million legislative appropriation for maintenance of county roads impacted by energy development to a stretch of highway leading to an in-situ uranium mining project.
Many county roads in the state are so-called "farm-to-market roads" that carry only five to six vehicles a day. They weren't built to withstand the pounding from trucks and other equipment used in the energy fields.
The Legislature last winter allocated $6 million to help counties deal with road costs incurred by energy development.
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, sponsored the bill for southeastern counties involved in the Niobrara Shale oil play, principally for Goshen and Platte counties. His original bill allocated $60 million.
The State Board of Lands and Investments on Thursday talked about how it will run the new $6 million program.
The board members and local officials concluded the money won't go very far.
The state board includes Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Joe Meyer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
One analysis estimated the cost of fixing county roads in Platte County alone is $16 million, Platte County Commissioner Tim Millikin said.
The new law limits applicants to only one project per application and allows no more than 40 percent of the $6 million to be awarded to one applicant.
It also specifies that the $6 million be used to address the impacts of oil development in the Niobrara or similar formations to be determined by the state board.
McDowell urged the state board to consider Natrona County for renovation of 7.5 miles of Wyoming Highway 212, the Gas Hills Road.
About 95 percent of the project is in Fremont County, he said, and the benefits to Natrona County would be "modest."
But he said the Bureau of Land Management scoping document on the project has serious questions about the condition of the road.
The Natrona County segment can qualify for the impact money because it serves the Bill Barrett Corp. oil drilling operation, said Brad Miskimins of WLC Engineering.
"We were also looking at this as an opportunity to inform the board that there are other areas in the state with impacted roads," Miskimins said.
Meyer said county roads could be a "black hole" for the state. He suggested setting up a revolving loan fund for the money that the counties can repay when revenues from energy development come in.
Maxfield supported that idea and agreed that the state should start slow with the new program.
"This problem is bigger than $6 million or $60 million," Meyer said.
Laramie County officials said the Niobrara oil play hasn't developed in their county yet. But the county roads are being damaged by trucks and equipment from Weld County in Colorado coming into the area.
Don Beard, Laramie County director of public works, said he was leery of a loan program based on future returns from development.
The developers in Laramie County, he said, "are playing it tight to the vest" and the county doesn't know if their projects will be productive.