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Gordon vetoes bill targeting proposed gravel mine west of Casper

Tom Morton, Oil City News

CASPER, Wyo. — On Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed Senate File 44, which started about bonding issues related to permits for limited mining operations but evolved into something much different that posed constitutional problems about the management of state lands, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

That evolution was a result of a massive protest by residents west of Casper who formed a grassroots movement to urge Gordon to sign the amended SF44 into law after they learned about a proposed gravel mining operation that would take place literally in their front, back and side yards.

Last year, the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee crafted SF44 and successfully introduced it in the Legislature’s recent budget session.

The bill’s introduction coincided with residents in the Squaw Creek/Coates Road area west of Casper learning about and becoming alarmed — if not outraged — at the intent by Prism Logistics, managed by Kyle True, to mine gravel in the area. They also learned that SF44 would have prevented county commissions from having authority to oversee such operations.

Those residents formed the Coates Road/Squaw Creek Gravel Resistance Group.

Starting Feb. 18, the group grew quickly, as did some changes with the bill.

Two days later, the Senate stripped the word “prevent” from the bill, leaving county commissioners with some authority over limited mining operations.

However, that wasn’t enough.

The Resistance Group held a meeting with about 200 residents concerned about the mine’s effects on water, water rights, air quality, road conditions and property devaluation; packed a Natrona County Commission meeting; and wrote House and Senate legislators as well as Gordon.

They met with success, especially with Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Natrona County).

Harshman and other legislators amended SF44 by increasing the boundaries of lands affected by a mine on state lands; changing the amounts and procedures of bonding; limiting the number of mining operations that could happen at a given time; and filing a report with information about materials sold and other issues.

However, Gordon responded that SF44 as amended would not have changed the circumstances of the Prism Logistics proposal, and that there is no pending application for a limited mining operation from it, either.

The amended SF44 — Enrolled Act No. 62, Limited mining operations-amendments — also dodged the matter about the state’s responsibility to best manage state lands to fund schools, according to the press release.

Gordon explained his reasoning for the veto in a letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray.

“This bill would limit the state’s ability to generate revenue from its lands. Furthermore, it would improperly invert the authority over state lands, ceding management decision making away from the state to the counties,” he wrote. “While Wyoming seeks to manage her state lands cooperatively with counties and their land use plans, the state is not constrained by them.”

Changing state law isn’t the way to deal with individual mining operations, he added.

The first places to start are the State Board of Land Commissioners — consisting of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction — and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

The amended SF44 would have extended the DEQ’s jurisdiction over lands administered by the SBLC and the Office of State Lands and Investments, eroding the authority of both, Gordon wrote.

Even though he vetoed the amended SF44, he encouraged the Joint Minerals Committee to review the original bill in the upcoming general session in 2025 and look at ways to deal with existing concerns over limited mining operations on state lands.

The governor also plans to take up the topic of mining operations on state lands at the April State Board of Land Commissioners Meeting.

Coates Road resident Gregg Werger first learned about the proposed gravel mine on Feb. 28 and became the de facto leader of the Resistance Group. He said he could understand Gordon’s reasoning about managing state lands, but disagreed that the bill was all about Natrona County, the Natrona County Commission and Prism Logistics’ proposed mine.

SF44 is about all counties and how people should be able to be involved in serious decisions about state lands that could affect them personally, Werger said.

“It’s crazy to me that citizens aren’t more protected,” he said.

The Resistance Group will meet again at the Ag Extension Building, 2011 Fairgrounds Road, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Werger said.