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Alcova – In 2015, a regular review of bridge safety by the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) alerted Natrona County Commissioners that, due to some safety concerns, a three-ton weight limit of would be imposed on the bridge.

“Technically, we couldn’t have gotten a pick-up truck and camper across the bridge,” explains Natrona County Commission President John Lawson. “We were notified in June 2015, when the recreation season was starting.”

Because of the weight restrictions, the bridge was reduced to one-lane traffic to get through the holiday season and allow campers access to Alcova.

Decision-making process

Immediately, a consultant was hired, and the company made recommendations as to repairs that would have to be made to increase weight restrictions and provide some usability of the bridge in the short-term. 

“We had a bit of sticker shock when we found out that repairs would be $400,000 in round numbers,” Lawson explains. “We thought that was a lot of money to spend on a bridge we would be tearing out rather soon.”

However, after conversations among the commission and WYDOT representatives, a decision was made to make the temporary repairs – a decision which was fortunate. 

“As a result of the temporary repairs, WYDOT rated the bridge at 29 tons by January 2016,” Lawson says.

Next steps

Though temporary repairs had been completed, Lawson says, “While it eased restrictions some, 29 tons won’t get a cattle truck across the bridge, but that did take care of most of the traffic.”

He continues, “We were relatively confident the bridge would be sufficient in the short-term. We were pleased about that.” 

The bridge is county-owned, Lawson explains, but under a state bridge replacement program, counties are assisted in replacement of bridges, which are very costly to replace. With funds from Natrona County and a $600,000 grant from the State Loan and Investment Board, construction was slated to begin immediately.

“The Alcova bridge got moved up in priority because of the safety concerns,” he explains.

Replacement bridge

WYDOT is responsible for bidding and selecting a contractor for the project, and Lawson says Natrona County was responsible for approximately $600,000 of the $2.8 million cost for the bridge. Other costs, including bridge design brought the total estimated cost for the project to $3.6 million.

“It’s a lot of money, but the bridge covers a big span, and it’s 30 miles from town,” he explains. “They also have to bring in a portable, temporary bridge that meets the highway standards of 40-ton capacity while they’re constructing the permanent bridge.”

At that point, WYDOT awarded a contract to a local company. 

“We were expecting, at the latest, the bridge should have been done in the fall of 2018,” Lawson says. “We thought we may even had the bridge completed by the spring of 2018, but now, that has been delayed to October 2019.”

Hurdles

After some unexpected challenges, Lawson explains, “We were informed by WYDOT they are working with the bonding company to get a new contracts now.”

“We’re negotiating with the original contractor’s bonding company to complete the bridge,” explains Mark Gillett, WYDOT assistant chief engineer for operations. “The bridge will be built, but it is unlikely that it will be completed this year.”

To complete the bridge, WYDOT is working with the original contractor’s bonding company to find another contractor and finance the project. 

“Though the bridge won’t be completed on time, WYDOT is committed to building this bridge,” Gillett adds. “It’s just going to take some time to find another contractor, work through the financial pieces and get the work completed.”

Lawson says the project will have no additional expenses, but the bridge will be delayed by approximately a year.

Mitigating factors

In the meantime, Lawson notes local ranchers expressed concern for the lack of a bridge.

“In addition to ranchers who needed to ship their cattle, our local county maintenance crews were unable to get their equipment across the bridge,” he explains. “We worked with the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) to arrange an agreement where we could bring the heavier loads over the Alcova Dam.”

A bridge exists over the spillway of Alcova Dam, and BuRec says the bridge can handle 40 tons, which meets highway regulations and local needs. 

“Anyone who wants to get across the Alcova Dam bridge can call the Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, who will send someone to open the gates via a keypad and code,” Lawson explains. “They also coordinate with the BuRec control center.”

“This agreement allows vehicles that exceed the 29-ton restriction to cross the river at that location,” he says.

The agreement is renewed annually, and BuRec has indicated it will renew the arrangement through next year. 

Lawson comments, “BuRec has been really accommodating. We’re grateful everyone out there has worked together. There aren’t other alternatives, so we had to do something.”

Impacts

The Alcova Bridge serves as a major economic driver of central Wyoming, providing access to Alcova’s Black and Cottonwood Beach, as well as an outlet for many ranches to ship cattle. 

“For ranchers, their only other option for shipping cattle is to go through Hanna, which is unacceptable,” Lawson says.

In addition, the bridge provides access to Alcova’s school, and any school bus was restricted from crossing the bridge as a result of the weight limit.

“This bridge has a major economic impact, not only to the ranchers and to the school but also to the recreation community,” he says. “The bridge is heavily used and provides access to the back side of Alcova.”

“I’m really thankful we made those repairs when we did because there was a lot of second guessing by many people who weren’t sure about spending $400,000 to fix a bridge that was going to be torn out,” he explains. “It’s worked out well, and it was well worth the money.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – Montana logger Bruce Vincent was featured as keynote speaker at the Wyoming Natural Resources Rendezvous, held in Casper on Dec. 10-13.
    “While everything is wonderful in our living rooms at home, there is a bunch of bad stuff going on in our rural community,” Vincent told members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and the Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management. “How did we get where we are at, and what do we have to do to make sure our ship doesn’t turn upside down?”
Conflicting vision
    Between the rural Americans who inhabit the West and urban populations, Vincent noted that visions seem to be conflicting.
    “We continue to have a collision of visions, which comes because of one desire, one desire that everyone understands – a desire built on love,” he said.
    As citizens of Wyoming and the West, Vincent asked how many people loved Wyoming and the natural environment of Wyoming, adding, “That is one of the reasons I moved home – clean air, clean water, abundant wildlife, things that most people have to go to see we have right outside our door.”
    He further explained that the natural and cultural environment of rural America is part of the problem today, because the rest of the world has similarly fallen in love with our environment.
    “When the rest of America has their two week vacation, they come from Los Angeles and Chicago to places like Wyoming and Montana, and they fall in love with the very things we love about this place,” Vincent explained. “When they leave, they leave with a desire that we share with them – a desire to protect.”
    “They want to save what they perceive to be the last best part of our country, and I don’t disagree,” he continued, “but sadly, their vision for the last best places has one fatal flaw. There is no provision in it for the last best people.”
Policy results
    As a result, the policies that are implemented by people who think they know about the West works in theory, but not when you apply them on the ground.
    “Their vision is being implemented on us, and we are being protected,” Vincent said. “We are being protected to death. My forest is being protected to death.”
    Without human management of the forests, for example, he noted, “It is going to be managed by nature, and not in 25 and 100 acre clear cuts. Nature is going to manage it in half a million acre blazes that don’t file environmental impact statements.”
    When citing mega fauna species, such as the grizzly bear, Vincent added that management of the forests helps such species recover.
    “We learned a long time go that grizzly bears don’t eat trees,” he said. “They eat the shrubs and roots and berries that grow where the tree crops have been removed.”
    The resulting landscapes also foster low, ground-hugging fires that invigorate huckleberry patches and provides for bear recovery, he continued.
    “But these people want to see nature manage it,” Vincent added. “Our timber towns are not alone anymore.”
Widespread impacts
    With mining and grazing also under attack, Vincent continued that policy is being misused and information is being gleaned from incompetent sources.
    “Something is wrong when America is in love with the environment, but get important information on this important subject from such noted experts as Dr. Meryl Streep,” he said. “She pretends for a living.”
    Vincent further noted, “The misinformation, disinformation, pseudoscience and half truths that the media prints as truth is what we base public policy on.”
    But with no information other than Bambi and biased television commercials to base their opinions on, he notes that America has no engine to test these “truths.”
    “The public has been told there used to be a Disney-esque eco-topia,” Vincent emphasized, “and in every single movie, the bad guy shows up – man. We are the destroyers of harmony, the destroyers of balance. We are not part of nature, we are separate from it.”
    As a result, the public seeks to recreate something that never has existed.
    “We are crossing the fine line between environmental sensitivity and environmental insanity,” Vincent commented.
Green movement
    As a result of the goal to preserve the area that America sees as the last best lands, a movement has begun, which Vincent described as “bastardizing law through regulatory regimes until they no longer resemble what they were supposed to be.”
    “We understand that the economy and ecology are two sides of the same coin,” he explained. “If one of them takes a hit, the other pays the price.”
    Using the tool of visual aids and television, he added that environmentalists have managed to use extremes to incite conflict and fear.
    “They do it in two 20-second sound bites with a visual,” Vincent noted. “If I want to talk about forestry, they use the world’s ugliest clear cut – that is forest management by man. If they want to talk about it, they find a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal from Axmen with stuff dribbling down his chin wearing an ‘Eat Owl’ t-shirt.”
    On the other hand, those trying to protect the forest have a babbling brook and mountain backdrop, with an eagle in one hand and a flag in the other, saying, “All I want is clean air for my water and my children.”
    The same examples are extended demonstrating animal agriculture and mining, among other subjects.
Working toward a solution
    With years of conflict behind us, Vincent also noted that it isn’t effective to create pickets or lead demonstrations because they are simply turned against the industry.
    “There are three truths,” Vincent added. “Democracy works, but it is not a spectator sport. Be involved.”
    By standing together in voting blocks and supporting those who support our industry, he noted that we have more power, but without participation, fragmentations expected.
    The second truth according to Vincent involves leading the discussion – not fighting it.
    “We confused fighting with leading, and rural America can no longer afford to have the discussion,” he said. “We have to talk to people about the two choices they have been told about. We need to ask the public what do you want to know? How can we be part of your answer?”
    “When we started telling the public the truth about who we are – worts, pimples and all – we started to change,” Vincent commented.
    Finally, Vincent said, “The final truth is that the world is run by those who show up.”
    By joining activists to talk, rather than fight, and showing up at meetings and events, he added that something can be done. Working locally in cooperative organizations is also important.
    “If we continue to work together, every young person here better hope that in 100 years, there will be another panel up here, talking about hope,” he said.
    Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wyoming’s coal companies and grain farmers may soon have a new option for shipping their products to the Pacific Rim. SSA Marine’s proposed dry bulk export facility, the Gateway Pacific Terminal, will be located at Cherry Point in northwest Washington.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal will serve as a multi-commodity transload station from trains to vessels heading to Asia. 

Although grain and coal can be shipped into Washington state from anywhere, it’s estimated that a large portion of the products will come from Montana and Wyoming.

SSA has filed for a permit that will allow it to handle 54 million tons of products – 48 million tons of coal and 6 million for agricultural products, including wheat, grain and forestry items. The grain will then be shipped to Asian markets.

Coal impacts

The economic boon of the proposed terminal is great, according to studies. A Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA)-commissioned, University of Wyoming-executed “Coal Economic Impact” study shows that coal in Wyoming accounts for 14 percent of gross state product, 9.3 percent of total labor income and 5.9 percent of total employment in the state.

The study also projects that the new port will produce 4,000 new jobs with $345 million in new labor income annually for the state of Wyoming.

In Washington, where one in four jobs are directly tied to imports and exports, the state will also see a boost with 1,250 permanent jobs created in northwest Washington.

Benefits of the project

A real positive is that the majority of the supporting infrastructure is already in place.

BNSF already has a well-connected northern tier with existing rail lines.

Cherry Point, the proposed location for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, already has an industrial zone with an aluminum smelter, industrial piers, good rail connections and utilities, and it’s already zoned for heavy industry. 

Another plus is that Cherry Point is already a deep port so it would not need any dredging.

Work in progress

Joe Ritzman, vice president of SSA Marine, notes that there is work necessary to complete the project.

“We would still need to construct the pier, grade the stockyard area and construct rail loops. We’ll also need to construct sheds to store the agricultural export products,” notes Ritzman. “And naturally, our engineering team has carefully planned the facility to meet the state’s stringent water quality and air quality regulations.”

Concerns

Certainly environmental issues are paramount, Ritzman comments, and there are other concerns being voiced.

One concern has been voiced by an Indian tribe in the area that has “treaty protected fishing rights” granted by the federal government long ago. That tribe has said Cherry Point’s fourth industrial pier will impact their fishing rights.

“This tribe’s concern is under review through the permitting process,” says Ritzman. “However, we believe the tribal treaty rights of non-fishing tribes should also be considered by the permitting agencies,” pointing out that Montana’s Crow Tribe has federally-protected treaty rights, as well.

“The Crow Tribe are part owners in the terminal with a five-percent stake in Gateway,” he says.

He continues, “Our view is that the permitting process needs to examine treaty rights across the board, including the treaty rights of the Crow Tribe and their right to control their economic destiny by shipping to where their resource is in demand.”

Washington and Montana Farm Bureaus support the project.

“This provides farmers from those states a good option as to where to ship their grain to the Pacific Rim. It provides another outlet to choose in the Pacific Northwest,” Ritzman concludes.

Rebecca Colnar is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..