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Thursday, May 15, 2003

Gas prices down 9 cents CHEYENNE — The average price of self-serve, regular gasoline has fallen 9 cents from a month ago, mirroring a nationwide trend.

Still, this month's average statewide price of $1.50 remains well above the average of $1.38 this time last year, according to AAA Wyoming.

Nationwide, the average price of self-serve regular has fallen 10.5 cents per gallon since mid-April to $1.497, the lowest since January.

The nationwide low price this year was $1.478 on Jan. 28. That soared to $1.722 in mid-March.

Martin's Cove talks continue CASPER — Any agreement to lease Martin's Cove to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints needs to be carefully reviewed, a conservation group says.

The Seattle-based Western Land Exchange Project warned that the Bureau of Land Management and the church could negotiate a lease that would set the stage for the church to eventually gain full ownership of Martin's Cove.

The Mormon church has long sought to buy the land because it is where many Mormon pioneers died during a blizzard in 1856. But there has been strong opposition to the church owning the site outright.

The lease proposal is seen as a compromise.

Janine Blaeloch, executive director of the Western Land Exchange Project, said the eventual lease agreement should not allow the church future ownership.

LDS Church Stake President Lloyd Larsen, of Riverton, said the proposed lease is still being negotiated.

Plan to end abuse close CHEYENNE — A plan to solve inmate safety issues at the Wyoming State Penitentiary is nearly completed.

An ACLU attorney says just four issues remain to be resolved.

In November, a federal judge ordered the state and the American Civil Liberties Union to create plans to address inmate abuse and other civil rights issues at the prison in Rawlins.

The two sides have gone over nine drafts.

The issue became public when inmate Brad Skinner said prison officials ignored his complaints about abuse by other inmates.

Court records show there have been between 100 and 300 assaults at the prison since 1996.

State to sue over horses CHEYENNE — The state plans to sue the Bureau of Land Management within the next several weeks, claiming the agency has mismanaged wild horses to the point that grasslands are being overgrazed, Attorney

General Pat Crank said Wednesday. "Our goal is to try and bring some sense to wildlife-management issues. … If you have too many wild horses, you can affect the mule deer population, the elk population and other Wyoming populations," Crank said.

Wyoming is home to one of the largest wild horse populations in the country. The BLM oversees 5,380 wild horses in 16 herd-management areas across the state, many in remote areas of Carbon and Sweetwater counties.

Two conservation districts threatened similar lawsuits in March over the Adobe Town herd in south-central Wyoming. The Little Snake River and Sweetwater County conservation districts claimed the BLM was violating the Wild Horse and Burro Act by not removing excess horses and failing to protect the range from deterioration.

BLM officials readily acknowledge problems with overpopulation but say they don't have the money to solve them. The agency would like to see at least 2,000 fewer wild horses in Wyoming, particularly the Adobe Town area, where 1,300 horses roam land "that should never see more than 800," BLM wild horse specialist Chuck Reed said.

Man pleads guilty in accident CASPER — A man who drove a boat that crashed and killed a passenger last summer at Alcova Reservoir has pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and six counts of reckless endangerment, according to District Attorney Kevin Meenan.

Natrona County resident Mike Cunningham, 40, was originally charged with boating while under the influence after he crashed his friend's boat into an island just after midnight July 6.

That charge was dropped pending an investigation into the wreck that killed Colorado resident Jessica Lynn Viduya, 28.

As a result of the investigation, more serious charges were filed.

Cunningham now awaits sentencing, Meenan said.

Cunningham's attorney, Don Fuller, said Meenan has indicated that he will ask for prison time, though the defense can still argue for a lesser sentence.

Court documents say Cunningham's blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was estimated at 0.14. That is over the legal limit of 0.08.

In addition to Cunningham's drug and alcohol use, speed and darkness were contributing factors, investigators said. According to their report, the boat was traveling at about 30 to 35 mph when it slammed into Goose Island and flipped over into the water.

Viduya died from being trapped under water for eight to 10 minutes.

BLM releases study for proposed gas project GREEN RIVER — A federal study estimates a gas project proposed in Sweetwater and Carbon counties could generate $4 billion for the state and local economies.

The figure includes $372 million in earnings to the developers over 30 to 50 years, according to the Bureau of Land Management draft study.

The Desolation Flats project area holds roughly 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that also could provide $549 million in various tax revenue for counties and the state.

The 233,000-acre project area is about 21 miles south of Wamsutter and 14 miles west of Baggs.

Recently the BLM released the draft study for public review.

A group of energy operators including Marathon Oil Co., EOG Resources, Inc., Yates Petroleum, Merit Energy and Questar Exploration and Production Co., are seeking federal permission to drill up to 385 natural gas wells at 361 sites with the goal of 250 producing wells.

If approved, development would begin this year and continue about 20 years. Ongoing production could last as long as 50 years.

The BLM study considers three alternatives, including the BLM's preferred alternative for 385 new wells. The document also looked at a no-action alternative and a plan for 592 wells at 555 locations.

The preferred alternative would create an estimated 246 drilling and field development jobs and 156 production-related jobs.

Two Elk power permit will be reconsidered GILLETTE — The Environmental Quality Council will take another look at a decision to revoke a state air-quality permit for the Two Elk power plant near Wright.

The Department of Environmental Quality revoked the permit last year when it concluded that North American Power Group had not started work on the 300-megawatt, coal-fired plant by the August deadline.

NAPG appealed the decision. A hearing on the appeal has been scheduled for May 29-30 in Gillette.

The first permit was issued in 1998 but the company made improvements to the design, requiring an amendment. The amendment was treated as a new permit and the permit was reissued in 2000.

A pre-hearing on the case took place Monday and there is talk of possible settlement negotiations, according to Terri Lorenzon, director of the Environmental Quality Council.

Police bust up camel prank GILLETTE — Police intervened before pranksters could arrange a midnight rendezvous for Humphrey the Camel.

Humphrey is the mascot sculpture at the North Campus of Campbell County High School. Late Monday or early Tuesday, the pranksters went to work by using a prosthesis to make Humphrey more obviously male.

"It was screwed onto it," Principal Boyd Brown said.

The plan was to introduce Humphrey to a camel sculpture from the high school's South Campus. But police scattered the pranksters as they went about making off with the South Campus camel.

One man was caught: a 21-year-old arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and with a suspended license. He allegedly had acetylene bottles that were going to be used to weld the camels together.

Brown estimated damage to both camels at $500. He turned the anatomical evidence over to police.

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