Agencies seek impact funds
August 15, 2018
A new transmission line project cutting through southwest Wyoming will bring workers to the area, as well as impact funding to four counties.
Last week, representatives of various local governments and agencies met to discuss their plan to claim a piece of the $7.9 million in impact funds the Gateway West Transmission Line project will bring. In total, county agencies seek $4.1 million.
Construction on the transmission project is scheduled to start in April and will connect the Jim Bridger Power Plant to the planned Aeolus Substation near Medicine Bow with 140 miles of 500-kilovolt transmission line. A total of 1,391 workers are anticipated to be in Sweetwater and Carbon counties during peak construction in the third quarter of 2019, with 849 expected in Carbon and 542 in Sweetwater. Along with the additional workers, additional governmental services will be needed for those workers, which is what the impact funding will help address.
A meeting scheduled in Rawlins Thursday between representatives from Sweetwater, Albany, Natrona and Carbon counties with the state’s Industrial Siting Council will determine how the impact funds will be distributed.
The biggest hurdle Sweetwater County will have to contend with is the amount of money municipal governments in Carbon County are seeking. The various impacts claimed by Carbon County governments total nearly $7.2 million, more than 90 percent of the total impact funding available.
Carbon County’s list includes $2.7 million requested by the county government for a complex housing the county’s sheriff’s office and road and bridge operations, as well as living quarters for staff in Medicine Bow, sheriff expenses for patrols and jail expenses, per capita impacts for the county’s fire, planning, attorney, metal health and public health offices, and $120,000 to the Medicine Bow Rural Healthcare District. The town of Medicine Bow wants $1.5 million for streets and drainage work, as well as maintenance for its water and sewer systems. Other communities in the county also seek funds, including Saratoga, which wants $1.9 million for alleged impacts to its enterprise funds, loss of tourism dollars, an additional employee, public safety and the installation of potable water and sewer to the Saratoga campground.
County officials dispute many of the Carbon County impact claims and believe most of the amounts provided by Carbon County are not justifiable to what impacts the project will have in the county.
Sweetwater County Commissioner John Kolb believes many of the municipalities are treating the impact funds as a windfall for their projects.
A second hurdle the county agencies will have to contend with is an error that was included in their initial submission to the Council. While the county’s different requests add to $4.1 million, a final tabulation at the end of the county’s submission only listed $2.1 million in requested impact funding.
“That’s kind of embarrassing,” County Commissioner Reid West said.
West said Sweetwater County’s impact estimates are “extremely reasonable,” saying some estimates left out the total impact costs. West cited the impact estimate provided by Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County as an example, saying the hospital’s estimate of $337,500 in impacts didn’t include potential Title 25 costs the hospital would incur. Title 25 deals with the hospitalization of mentally ill patients, an area both West and Kolb believe would see an increase as the transmission line is built.
“If anything, the hospital is way low,” West said.
Other impact amounts Sweetwater County agencies estimated focused the number of workers expected to come to the county. The county’s food bank believes they will have additional impacts as prospective workers come to the area to get hired. According to comments submitted by Kathy Siler, executive director of the food bank, those people will use the bank before they’re hired, which she believes would result in $98,833 for both additional food and staff hours.
Another major impact the county expects will be to the county roads along the transmission line’s route. According to Gene Legerski, the county’s public works director, seven county roads would be impacted by additional truck travel bringing construction materials to project locations. Along with the additional maintenance needed for the roads, he also said several roads will need to be widened to allow semi trucks to pass one another. The total road impacts is estimated at $943,985.
Green River left out
Green River isn’t eligible for impact funding, despite the fact that Rock Springs is. The city can petition the Council for inclusion in the funding distribution, but according to Finance Director Chris Meats, the city hasn’t decided if it will. Initially, they believed the impact funding to come from a similar project aiming to connect the Jim Bridger Power Plant with a substation in southeast Idaho, construction of which city officials believe would impact the city.
However, one sticking point for city officials is the fact Laramie is included in the impact funding distribution and plans to submit a funding amount to the Council. Laramie is located further away from construction than Green River is to the Jim Bridger plant.
“If they’re going to say Laramie is impacted, we may have to challenge them,” Meats said. “If Laramie is affected by (construction impacts), we might have some heartburn over it.”
Meats said the city won’t see the impacts Rock Springs will likely receive as construction workers and their families move to the area as he believes a majority of people won’t come to Green River.
“Rent is too expensive. No one is going to come live on our rent,” he said.
However, Green River wouldn’t be completely unaffected by the project, as Eric Bingham, the county’s land use director said workers will travel to Green River for worker permits and other business at the Sweetwater County Courthouse.
Wamsutter law enforcement
Wamsutter will likely see an increase in single workers living in the town, but the town doesn’t have dedicated law enforcement since the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office stopped staffing a deputy there. According to Capt. Rich Hawkins of the SCSO, the office doesn’t plan to have a dedicated deputy in Wamsutter. As a result, the town seeks an additional $200,000 on top of the $500,709 it has already requested.
The amount covers the cost of wages and benefits, as well as equipment and a police vehicle.
“It’s a very difficult position to fill,” Hawkins said at the meeting Friday.
He said sometimes a person comes along who works in the community for 20 years, but said the office went through three deputies in two years prior to the office withdrawing the position.
Both Kolb and West expressed disappointment with the sheriff’s office not staffing a deputy in the town, but said the decision was left to Sheriff Mike Lowell, not the county commissioners.
“We feel like there’s a lot of things that are going to happen,” Wamsutter’s treasurer and secretary, Susan Carnes said about the added influx of temporary workers that will live in the town.
The sheriff’s office does include adding a deputy to its roster and conducting targeted patrols in the area around Wamsutter during the life of the project, but does not specifically staff a position with the $655,588 the office seeks in impact funding.
“There’s no way (Wamsutter) should have to do that,” West said about the town staffing an officer.