Clear

59°F

Powell, WY

Clear

Humidity: 41%

Wind: 7 mph

Editorials

Weatherford closure illustrates economic needs

The end of Weatherford's operation in Powell, announced in May, came closer to reality this week.

More than a dozen semis arrived on Alan Road Monday and Tuesday to haul away equipment once operated by more than 40 people in Powell. Those jobs, as well as many, if not most, of the people who held them, will be lost to the Powell community.

The departure of Weatherford, which the company blamed on the economic conditions in the energy industry brought on by the worldwide financial and economic turmoil, is a reminder that Park County, like the state of Wyoming in general, are heavily dependent on one industry: energy production. That industry tends to be volatile, and, as we all know, produces a “boom and bust” economy.

The decision by Weatherford, a Swiss-based company, to close the Powell operation probably was made in Houston, the company's U.S. headquarters. That should remind us that, despite our vaunted Wyoming independence, many elements of our economy are in the hands of stockholders and business executives far away from Powell, and we have little or no control over them.

Still, Powell's economic development efforts must continue trying to attract such businesses to the community.

Fostering the creation or expansion of home-grown businesses is important and should be a big part of the effort to grow the community's economy, but businesses such as Weatherford are a vital element of a healthy economy.

Powell's economic development efforts have slowed in recent months, and they need to be revitalized. Doing so will require an ongoing effort by both individuals and the community. It will require funding, and it will require commitment.

It won't be easy, but Powell has recovered from events such as this before.

We think Powell can do it again.

Visitors to the Park County Fair will see many sights — animals, carnival rides and top-notch entertainment — but recycling receptacles are noticeably absent.

Instead, attendees are faced with two options: hauling their recyclables out with them or taking the easier approach and just tossing them in the trash.

The fair is one of Park County's largest annual events. According to Fair Manager Steve Scott, more than 35,000 people go through the gates each year — and that's not counting concessionaires, entertainers, carnival workers, young fair participants and their parents and others who take part in various events, such as pig wrestling and the demolition derby.

Picture a behemoth pile of 35,000 plastic bottles and aluminum cans headed to the soon-to-close Powell landfill. It's not a pretty picture. But if each person through the fair gates consumes just one bottled drink over the course of the week, it's an unfortunate reality.

In this day and age, with the heightened conscience about the planet's health — not to mention the ever-looming landfill issues faced in Park County — residents need to demand more.

Recycling simply is no longer an option, but a duty.

Many things in Park County harken back to the good old days — including the old-fashioned county fair — but unnecessarily piling refuse in the landfill is inexcusable.

It's high time for the entire county — municipalities, post offices, hospitals, businesses and residents — to look at ways to increase recycling accessibility.

Reconsider the I-80 toll

Earlier this month, a Wyoming roadway was closed partially after its pavement deteriorated so quickly that it necessitated emergency repairs.

Though the deteriorating pavement — on a section of Interstate 80 between Rawlins and Laramie — is far removed from Powell's road system, highways in our area may soon face similar plights.

With worsening highway conditions statewide, Wyoming Department of Transportation crews are struggling to keep up.

“The bottom line is that state roadways are deteriorating at a faster rate than we have the ability to fix based on current revenue,” said WYDOT District Engineer Jay Gould, in a recent press release.

He cautioned that Wyoming residents will see more situations where roads are closed for emergency repairs, especially on heavily-traveled interstates.

More than 6,800 miles of roadways wind through Wyoming. Each stretch requires regular maintenance, but funding for upkeep is scarce. In the last budget session, the Legislature reduced the department's money for highway construction by $150 million from the previous biennium.

Those funding woes are compounded by the expiration of the Federal Aid Highway Program in September 2009. Federal highway funding currently is being distributed under continuing resolutions, which limit the department's ability to do long-term planning.

Wyoming's current situation — dwindling budgets and deteriorating roadways — signals the need for a new approach to fund highway maintenance.

State leaders should reconsider a toll for I-80.

The frequented interstate sees around 13,000 vehicles daily, with heavy trucks accounting for half of that traffic. The wear and tear of a single heavy truck is equivalent to that of 400 cars, according to WYDOT.

Over the next 30 years, maintenance for Wyoming's 400 mile-stretch of I-80 is estimated to cost $6.4 billion. Yes, that's a staggering figure — in fact, it exceeds the total of revenue projected to be available for maintaining Wyoming's entire highway system, according to an I-80 tolling study.

Though the recent tolling study conveyed the steep costs Wyoming faces in maintaining I-80, state legislators voted against the tolling concept earlier this year. The tolling issue may remain dormant for now, but the cost of fixing deteriorating highways certainly is not.

State legislators, and Wyoming's next governor, must consider how to keep the state's roadways safe and well maintained — even if it means imposing a toll for I-80.

It's time for the state to rethink student assessment

NCS Pearson, the company that administers Wyoming's student assessment — the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students, or PAWS — is running a public apology for technical glitches that rendered many students' test scores unusable this year.

Due to the widespread nature of the test problems, the state has requested that some scores be thrown out. And, according to an Associated Press report, the state Department of Education estimates the problems cost the state about $9.5 million in damages.

In addition, the colossal waste of teacher and student time can't be ignored. In an attempt to meet mandates in the No Child Left Behind Act, instructors spend months teaching to statewide assessment tests. Students feel the pressure to perform, and valuable class time is spent preparing for and taking the PAWS test.

NCS Pearson certainly owes the education department, teachers, students and parents an apology, as well as financial restitution, for its ineptitude — but it's time for the state to question its relationship with the company and to move forward in evaluating and rethinking its assessment process.

The State Superindent of Public Instruction oversees the Department of Education — the person who wins that race in the November elections should make a revamp of student assessment a top priority, and NCS Pearson should not figure into the equation.

With 28 days remaining until the Aug. 17 primary election, candidates will amplify campaign efforts in the coming weeks as voters make their final decisions.

The primary election promises to be telling in several races — four major gubernatorial candidates are vying for the GOP nomination, and a dozen Republican hopefuls are competing for three available seats on the Park County Commission. In the local House District 25 legislative race, three Republicans are seeking the seat, but no Democrats filed.

For certain races, it's quite likely that those who win in August will be our next elected officials.

Given the importance of next month's primary election, voters must be ready to make informed decisions — and the more they know about each candidate, the better prepared they are. Transparency is key in the weeks ahead.

It's encouraging to see some candidates take the lead.

Last week, GOP candidate Rita Meyer disclosed her campaign finance figures, detailing the $306,525 she has raised in her quest for the governor's office.

Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who is seeking re-election, has been posting a steady stream of finance reports since January, months ahead of the filing date.

By Wyoming law, campaign finance reports must be filed by Aug. 10 — just a week ahead of the primary election.

That doesn't allow a lot time for media to report extensively on campaign finances, nor does it give voters very much time to digest the details. It's also likely that by Aug. 10, many voters will have made up their minds.

Money and politics make strange bedfellows, and you never know what a campaign finance report may reveal.

Voters and media have a responsibility to get to know candidates, and they can follow money trails easier when candidates are transparent and forthcoming.

As Meyer said in a release last week, “… Wyoming voters have the right to know who they are electing.

Transparency is about being accountable to the citizens of Wyoming.”

Meyer's and Maxfield's voluntary, early release of financial reports is commendable — and we challenge other candidates to follow suit.

Take the money or keep autonomy?

The announcement that federal money — $400,000 to $700,000 annually — may be available to fund the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic poses some difficult questions for the clinic board, as well as community members.

The clinic, with a second branch soon to open in Cody, has survived thus far through generous community support and volunteer efforts, but with limited hours one evening a week.

The federal money would enable the clinic to operate on a full-time, 40-hour-per-week basis, but with the strings and red tape that accompany federal community health programs. But the “free” in free clinic would cease to exist — instead the organization would see needy patients on a sliding-fee basis.

The next few months will require an exhaustive look into the pros and cons of the proposal. The Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic Board is divided on how it views the offer, but as Dr. Nick Morris, who along with his wife, Madelyn, founded the clinic, asked, “...the ethical dilemma is, if they're going to give someone $400,000 to see eight times the number of patients, shouldn't we consider it?”

Prior to the proposed meeting with federal Community Health Program representatives in October, donors, community members, volunteers and — just as importantly, the patients receiving services at the clinic — need to voice their opinions to the board about how the clinic can best serve low-income and uninsured people in Park County and surrounding areas.

A federal community health program would have more resources and reach more people — but is the current free clinic model the best choice, with the clinic drawing its strength from continued community support?

Many controversies surround the new federal health-care legislation, so it comes as no surprise that the law's first element to take effect has businesses and consumers seeing red.

Under the health care bill, Americans who use tanning beds must now pay a 10-percent tax. The tanning tax took effect earlier this month and is expected to generate $2.7 billion over the next 10 years to help underwrite health-care reform costs.

While tanning businesses and their customers lament the new tax, it's certainly not the first time America has taxed harmful habits. Tobacco has been taxed since the Civil War, and in 2009 the government enacted the largest federal tobacco tax in American history.

And each time the tobacco tax increases, more people quit smoking, according to American Cancer Society research.

Likewise, the hope is that a tanning tax will help reduce the hours people spend baking underneath damaging ultraviolet light.

Exposure to ultraviolet rays — such as those in tanning beds — is shown to increase the risk of the sun-related skin cancer, melanoma.

“And those studies are all consistent — that regardless of the type of tanning bed that you're using, it increases your risk of developing melanoma,” dermatologist Allan Halpern said in an interview with National Public Radio.

Wyoming is becoming even stricter on tanning regulations. Starting this month, children and teens under 18 must have written parental consent to use an ultraviolet tanning bed.

The 2010 Legislature passed the measure, which Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed in March. It's a wise action for Wyoming, considering research shows melanoma risk increases for those who started using tanning beds before the age of 30.

Some residents feel burned by the new federal tanning tax and state's age requirements, but the long-term damage of ultraviolet-light exposure is more harmful than a new tax.

Money well spent?

Early this spring, University of Wyoming trustees and wealthy donors — along with alumni, parents and others — pressured UW president Tom Buchanan to deny controversial figure William Ayers' right to speak at the school.

The former 1960s radical and founder of the anti-Vietnam War group The Weather Underground was slated to speak about education reform on campus in April, but a torrent of angry e-mails and phone calls and donors' threats to withhold money led the privately-endowed UW Social Justice Research Center to rescind the invitation.

When a student re-extended the invitation, university officials barred Ayers from speaking on campus. The brief legal battle that ensued when that student, Meghan Lanker, and Ayers sued UW in U.S. District Court subsequently cost the school $86,000 in settlement money, legal fees and other expenses.

The choice by UW officials to deny free speech on campus was a poor one from the get-go, and the $86,000 price tag makes it even more difficult for many university supporters to swallow.

What amounted to a “heckler's veto” of free speech, according to Wyoming Chief U.S. District Judge William Downes when he ruled on the case in April, came with a hefty price tag.

Taxpayers and other UW supporters and donors shouldn't have to pay the legal tab for a few who insisted UW officials quell free speech. It's time for the hecklers to stand behind what they believe in — to put their money where their mouths are — and foot the bill.

Call it lucky number 13. Thirteen years ago, the Powell Valley Healthcare Board hired the 13th candidate interviewed for the position of chief executive officer.

In Rod Barton, Powell Valley Healthcare found an esteemed director with financial savvy and strong leadership skills to grow the institution as a profitable, reputable health-care facility in the region.

The numbers speak for themselves.

When Barton began in 1997, Powell Valley Healthcare was operating in the red with a nearly $1 million deficit. Thirteen years later, the budget is very much in the black — to the tune of $6.5 million in cash available, or 57.5 days of operating expenses.

Under his leadership, the hospital expanded to include an assisted living center, a walk-in clinic, an MRI and a brand-new medical clinic to accommodate a growing number of physicians who have signed on during Barton's tenure.

Last year, Barton was one of 50 hospital CEOs in the nation honored by the American Hospital Association.

His skillful leadership over the past 13 years makes Barton's recent resignation hard to swallow. Barton's departure, effective in late August, is indeed a loss to Powell Valley Healthcare and the community as a whole.

His resignation also comes at a difficult time as health care issues are hotly contested nationally and at a crossroads locally. Next month, Park County voters will decide on a primary ballot whether to fund a $14.2 million capital-facilities tax for proposed renovation and expansion of Cody's West Park Hospital.

Barton is leaving Powell Valley Healthcare in better shape than he found it in — and the challenge for his successor is to continue in that vein.

The upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend will be filled with exciting events and fun activities throughout the area.

While enjoying all the area has to offer over the Fourth, it's crucial Park County residents and visitors practice safety as well.

The recent rash of traffic fatalities in Park County — due to excessive speed, lack of seat belts, driving under the influence and motorcyclists' failure to wear helmets — should serve as a strong reminder to use additional caution when traveling Wyoming's roadways.

Not drinking and driving — along with slowing down, buckling up and wearing helmets — can go a long way toward keeping the holiday weekend tragedy-free.

People traveling to the mountains to celebrate should make sure others are aware of travel plans and destinations. Travelers should be prepared to encounter high water in area creeks and rivers, and hikers should have bear spray or a firearm handy when enjoying the back-country.

Fireworks should be handled with care to avoid the burns and injuries that send thousands of people to emergency rooms across the nation each year during Independence Day festivities.

Young children should not handle or ignite fireworks, and older children should be supervised by adults at all times. In order to prevent unintentional fires, fireworks should be used only in still conditions and in areas cleared of brush and debris.

The Fourth of July should be a time for all Americans to celebrate our independence and to create long-lasting memories with family and friends. The proper measure of caution can ensure weekend revelry doesn't take a tragic turn for the worse.

Page 72 of 74

Subscribe

Get all the latest Powell news by subscribing to the Powell Tribune today!

Click here to find out more!

E-Edition

Our paper can be delivered right to your e-mail inbox with a subscription to the Powell Tribune!

Find out more here!

Stay Connected

Keep up with Powell news by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter.

Go to top