PINEDALE – The familiar, cozy den of the commissioners' meeting room welcomed the Sublette County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday for its first meeting in three weeks. Some commissioners returned with the haze of a three-day weekend having just been snapped by an early morning start for what became the longest meeting of the year.
Commissioners thoroughly dug through the diverse agenda, each item like a blind dart throw into a different topic.
Perhaps the issue with the most immediate consequence was a quick, unanimous approval from the board to move Sublette County into Stage 1 Fire Restrictions as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, July 7. This matches restrictions already in place for Bridger-Teton National Forest and Teton County. According to Sublette County Unified Fire, the Bureau of Land Management High Desert District is in the process of implementing the same restrictions.
Restrictions at this level prohibit all outdoor fires, incendiary devices and the discharge of fireworks in the county. It does allow for campfires at residences for campsites, trash or refuse fire between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., charcoal fires within enclosed grills, use of welding and use of portable stoves so long as there is a minimum 15-foot cleared radius.
Of course, restrictions were put into place because of the current drought conditions throughout Sublette County and western Wyoming.
Drought topped discussion between commissioners and a pair of guests from the BLM – Pinedale Manager Doug Linn and Joel Klosterman. Board chair Joel Bousman started that discussion by sharing the opinion of those around that conditions in Sublette County are worse than what was shown by a current BLM map. Linn said the Pinedale Field Office would do what it could to compile data and analysis in order to provide more accurate information, and resources, to ranchers impacted by current conditions. Having ranchers document the downturn in hay production could be a helpful step forward.
Cooperation between the entities would be paramount as the BLM manages grazing on lands in lower elevations. Some of those areas get less runoff from mountain water sources and the grazing land becomes less viable. Bousman said some of the only fertile land for wildlife to graze on is being used to feed domestic livestock.
“There’s antelope out there that look shaggy and rough,” Bousman said. “I’ve never seen antelope look like that this time of year.”
Commissioner Doug Vickrey followed Bousman’s comments on the grazing season with the historical implications he’s faced on his ranch. He said the ranchers are likely see a carryover of lacking feeding hay because it’s burnt, which could lead some to start later in the season. Historically, harsh winters follow summers like this, he said.
“At some point in time you say, ‘To heck with it,’ and wait for things to clear up,” Vickrey said. “If they do, in my case you say ‘That’s enough for me,’ or if you’re young enough you start all over again.”
Linn said the BLM office is hopeful to get more field specialists in so producers in the county can get the necessary help. Klosterman said they could seek temporary water solutions.
Oil and gas
The commissioners elected to table a motion to accept ad valorem tax exemptions because they did not get a chance to read through the language in each exemption contract. Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich and county treasurer Emily Paravicini said they were the same forms throughout, just with different names and addresses. The board will instead revisit those accepted applications at its July 20 meeting.
Linn of the BLM noted during his time that he’s noticed the lowest amounts of drilling permits in years, although he credited at least some of that to commodity prices. They’ve processed about 75 permits this year and currently have less than 10 processing in-house, Linn said, but they do expect an increase in drilling permits soon.
Commissioners, Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock and Marbleton employee Sam Bixler all lent voice to the draft resolution for the Sublette County Visitor Center joint powers board during the meeting.
Murdock explained funds from the new countywide lodging tax would be insufficient to fund the visitor’s center, at least in the beginning. He noted that the Town of Pinedale contributes some amount to the center, in addition to the county’s funding.
He also brought up the possibility for $75,000 in Enviromedial funds each year the next four years being on the table, although commissioners noted hesitancy to rely on those funds.
Bixler said Marbleton is interested and willing to work with the group, especially if there is some sort of visitor’s center presence in the community.
Vickrey said a presence in south county would be necessary.
Following clarification on language from Melinkovich, commissioners all voted in favor to establish the joint powers board and decided the first issue for the board was what presence the visitor’s center would have in Big Piney-Marbleton.
Janna Lee, Public Health nurse, approached the board to talk about office space for Public Health. The current Public Health Office location would need to be demolished to make way for the new critical access hospital in order to provide a centralized directory. Lee laid out the options she’s found for temporary housing of the Public Health Office while also explaining she was hopeful to keep the building. Members of the public, including former commissioner Andy Nelson, spoke in support of keeping the office building.
Vickrey said he didn’t buy the architect’s claims that the office building had to go if it was conveyed the county was hopeful of keeping the structure from the start.
A prolonged discussion resulted in Dave Doorn, representing the Hospital District, agreeing to contact the architect and bringing them to an upcoming commissioners’ meeting to answer questions the board has.
Doorn was present for that discussion because he stuck around following the commissioners’ accepting the Sublette County Rural Health Care District’s dissolution resolution. Board members and attorney Rachel Weksler were present for the vote to officially bring the SCRHCD’s tenure to an end.
That vote was part of state statute. Melinkovich explained the dissolution could happen through either commissioners’ vote or public election. Bousman made sure it was everyone’s expectations for the board to move forward with the vote. Vickrey asked if the vote would be the end for the SCRHCD. Melinkovich said it would, as all assets, obligations, duties and responsibilities have already been transferred to the Hospital District.
Commissioners carried the motion to complete the dissolution.
The only executive session of the meeting resulted in the board passing a motion to accept compensation of medical expenses.