Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

The Year in Review

A look back at major local events during the year of 2021

 

December 30, 2021

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January

January

As the year began, so too did the City of Sundance's contract for law enforcement services with the Crook County Sheriff's Office. Upon the retirement of Police Chief Marty Noonan, the decision was made to cut around $75,000 in annual costs for the city by tapping in to the "depth of experience" offered by the office, said Mayor Paul Brooks, who commented, "We've got a good partnership started."

The future of the Sundance Winter Festival was called into question when the original organizers stepped down, but Steele Team Roping volunteered to take the reins and move the festival to the county fairgrounds. Unfortunately, a lack of snow later caused the annual event to be cancelled anyway.

Crook County Public Health announced it had completed the first phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, which included front-line workers such as hospital staff, and was moving on to offer vaccinations for people aged 70 years and over.

Rare Element Resources said it had been approved for a funding award of over $21 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, which would allow it to move ahead with plans to construct a demo plant.

County Treasurer Mary Kuhl was reprimanded after submitting a $379 expense for a Christmas dinner hosted for her office staff. The county commissioners felt it was inappropriate for such an event to be funded by the taxpayer.

February

A cold snap broke local records, including a chilly -29 degrees Fahrenheit recorded at Devils Tower. Despite the snow, the U.S. Drought Monitor upgraded the county to severe drought conditions.

Crook County Medical Services District (CCMSD) and the Crook County Medical Foundation (CCMF) continued negotiations over a contract for the new clinic in Hulett, on which construction was running ahead of schedule. An offer was made based on the district's proportionate share of costs.

The Crook County Republican Party voted to censure U.S. Representative Liz Cheney for her actions in support of the impeachment of ex-President Donald Trump. "It was unanimous on the vote," said Chairman Roger Connett.

The county began an examination of its regulations for large-acre parcels in response to an influx of new residents from across the United States. "A whole lot of people coming here who don't share the same values we do," said Connett, Crook County Land Use Planning and Zoning Commission.

The commissioners also agreed to form a committee to explore possibilities to preserve the last remaining landfill in the county, in Moorcroft. However, they were not keen on Moorcroft Mayor Dick Claar's request to form a solid waste district through which to present the question to voters on the ballot.

March

The Second Amendment Preservation Act caused alarm for all 23 of Wyoming's sheriffs when it came before the Wyoming Legislature due to its unintended anti-law enforcement implications. Sheriff Jeff Hodge sounded the alarm that it could turn an ordinary arrest into a career-ending decision for a peace officer by preventing firearms from being confiscated by federal entities and holding state law enforcement officers accountable.

Representative Chip Neiman held a listening session with representatives from Crook County School District to share the depth of the budget crisis facing the State of Wyoming and to ask for ideas on how to solve the $300 million shortfall for schools that he said was expected to increase in future years.

The commissioners decided once and for all that a solid waste district would not be formed to investigate the future of trash in this county. The plan for an investigative "think tank" was also scrapped, bringing to an end the question of whether the county-wide community could work together to find a single solid waste solution.

Local man Doug Ramsey was hailed a hero while volunteering at the Iditarod in Alaska when his quick thinking enabled him to rescue a young boy who had fallen through the ice.

Upgrades began at the county fairgrounds with the demolition of three old cattle and horse barns that were in a dilapidated state due to age, the first step of a larger renovation project.

Fire restrictions were imposed earlier than usual due to a high risk of fire across the county and the fact that two homes had already been lost in the first three months of the year.

April

As the 2021 Legislative Session drew to a close, Governor Mark Gordon signed numerous bills into law, including a supplemental budget that contained more than $430 million in cuts. However, some programs saw modest funding restorations, including Wyoming Department of Health programs for seniors, low income residents, the disabled and mental health services.

The Second Amendment Preservation Act, however, died upon introduction to the House despite an amendment that aimed to fix the "anti-law enforcement" language.

The CCMSD and CCMF boards came together for the first time to discuss the particulars of the new Hulett clinic. Some CCMSD board members were concerned that the district could not justify paying rent on a new building when it already owns a fully paid-off clinic building within the town, while CCMF board members clarified that they would only be charging rent until the construction loans had been paid off.

The CCMSD board agreed to consider the lease offer at its next meeting. The decision was made to make a counter offer in which the new clinic would revert to the ownership of CCMSD once the building was completely paid off.

Thanks to deputies from the Sheriff's Office, a pregnant woman and her husband who found themselves stranded on Warren Peak were successfully rescued despite snowdrifts blocking the road.

May

After years of effort, the Crook County Museum was finally able to reopen in the refurbished Old Stoney building. Meanwhile, a new recreation opportunity prepared to open to the public: Sundance White Ranch Park, a 100-acre private ranch with trails and space for picnics, in honor of George and Betty White.

CCMSD received its answer from the foundation in the form of a no: CCMF said it was not willing to promise to hand over the new clinic building and instead had voted unanimously to open up the lease negotiation to any medical service vendor who might be interested in providing service to the Crook County communities.

A brief kerfuffle at the Sundance Post Office made the rounds on the internet when two self-proclaimed "First Amendment auditors" came to Sundance on a mission to "prove" that local law enforcement encroaches upon citizens' right to freedom of speech. After the resulting video was posted on two separate social media accounts, fans of the twosome flooded the community with phone calls, messages and emails, disrupting business all over town, including at city hall, the schools and the Sheriff's Office.

Crook County Assessor Theresa Curren confirmed that property sales had increased in this county since the year before, confirming local suspicions that a whole lot of people seemed to be moving to the area. An extra 122 deeds had already been recorded than by the same time in 2020 – almost double the amount.

"Right now, once you put a house on, it's basically sold," she said.

Rare Element Resources confirmed that the next stage of development for its planned rare earth mine would take place in Upton, the location originally chosen for the company's full-scale separation activities once the mine was up and running.

June

Fire season continued to tax the resources of county firefighters, with lightning strikes reported to have caused five individual fires on a single day. One, located ten miles northwest of Hulett, grew to 425 acres in size, while the Town of Pine Haven averted disaster when a wildfire came so close to town that it was clearly visible from residents' back yards.

Crook County was declared a primary natural disaster area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to the ongoing drought conditions.

Crook County's two legislators clashed over the ethics of a "pledge" sent out by Representative Chip Neiman asking legislators to promise support for bills that would alter how elections take place in Wyoming. While Neiman felt his actions promoted the desires of the people who voted for him, Senator Ogden Driskill and his cohorts on the Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions found it unethical for legislators to make promises before considering the issue properly.

The rift between members of the CCMSD board that had been widening throughout negotiations over the Hulett clinic was brought to the fore during the monthly meeting, when trustees disagreed over issues including who should be allowed to speak with the press and board member conduct.

The negotiations themselves also stalled again when a question caused a sticking point: who would pay the outstanding costs, at that time estimated to stand at approximately $1.5 million?

CCMSD meanwhile resubmitted its offer on the Hulett clinic lease after reaching a tentative agreement with the foundation that the contract would include an agreement for the building to be gifted to the district once all debts on it had been paid.

A grand opening event was held for Old Stoney and the new park area next door, Sundance Square. The event included a Masonic cornerstone ceremony and a gala event in the park.

July

County Treasurer Mary Kuhl was arrested on one felony and three misdemeanor charges related to her conduct as an elected official. The allegations included that she listed a customer's license plate tabs as lost in the mail but then placed them on her own vehicle; that she adjusted the tax system to hide missing money; and that she issued a false certificate so that a personal friend could avoid paying registration fees.

Lightning plagued the county with non-stop fires. According to Fire Warden Doug Leis, some days saw several incidents in quick succession. The storms that continued to come through the area each sparked several fires thanks to the dry conditions.

The National Interagency Fire Center upgraded its preparedness level to five, the highest level possible, which meant that 80% of the incident management teams and wildland firefighting personnel across the country were committed to incidents. This was done in response to 83 large fires across 13 states, including Wyoming.

Thanks to the wildfires, the Wyoming Air Quality Division and National Weather Service began issuing regular air quality warnings.

Just in time for fair week, renovations at the fairgrounds continued with a makeover for the show ring, including tie-outs to replace the barns demolished at the beginning of the year.

No progress was made on negotiations over the new Hulett clinic due to confusion over how much the foundation had actually received in donations and, therefore, how much in the way of loans would need to be paid back. The board also began its search for a new trustee to replace Connie Lindmier, who had resigned due to the ongoing tensions within the board.

August

Visitor numbers were low on the Wyoming side of the border during the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which surprised those who thought this year would be busier after the pandemic caused some to avoid the 80th anniversary.

The commissioners sent a verified complaint to the office of Governor Mark Gordon, asking for Kuhl to be removed from office. During her preliminary hearing, Judge Wendy Bartlett determined that the charges were serious enough to elevate the case to District Court, but also determined that she should be allowed to return to work.

Later in the month, the Wyoming Attorney General's Office filed a civil case against Kuhl that included a new charge of the theft of approximately $2400 from the vault of the Treasurer's Office. Kuhl appeared in District Court for an arraignment hearing on the criminal charges, to which she pled "not guilty."

The results of the U.S. Census Bureau's national survey caused surprise in Crook County's towns when it revealed that the population of the county has grown over the last ten years, but three of the four municipalities had shrunk. The census suggested Hulett had lost 19.3% of its population, Sundance 12.7% and Moorcroft 6.2%; Pine Haven was the only town with a recorded increase of 0.6%.

Crook County Memorial Hospital announced it was reaching crisis point due to the number of people with severe COVID-19 symptoms seeking medical care. An explosion of new cases was attributed to the spread of the Delta variant.

September

Kuhl was suspended from her position as county treasurer by Governor Mark Gordon. An amended version of the petition for her removal from office was filed by the Attorney General's Office, adding new accusations of theft and falsified documents that originated from an FBI investigation.

CCMF announced that Campbell County Health was poised to sign a contract to occupy the new clinic in Hulett. CCMSD decided not to intervene, but instead to reassure the Hulett community that it would continue providing services at its existing clinic; concerns were also expressed at the board's monthly meeting over the future of the district's relationship with the foundation, as the two no longer appeared to be aligned.

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee continued to work on plans to change Wyoming's elections, with Neiman presenting a constitutional amendment that would allow a special session to complete the redistricting process early, which in turn would allow run-off elections to be instituted in time for the 2022 elections.

The Sundance City Council responded to the results of the census, which the council felt could not possibly be accurate. A reported loss of 150 citizens could be financially devastating, said Mayor Paul Brooks, as state funding is allocated by population; the council decided to pursue a challenge.

The National Integrated Drought Information System officially listed 2021 as Crook County's driest on record, with an estimated 5.82 fewer inches of precipitation than a normal year.

The Pine Haven Days parade included a special tribute this year: 13 Corvettes bearing the names of the 13 servicemen and women lost during the withdrawal from Afghanistan, including Rylee McCallom of Wyoming.

October

Kuhl resigned from her position as county treasurer, causing the county commissioners to begin the process of replacing her through appointment. The Crook County Republican Party was asked to present the names of three candidates from which the commission would make their choice.

The CCMSD Board of Trustees made the decision to formally split from the foundation and pursue its own fundraising arm. The decision was made due to the realization that the foundation does not act solely in support of the district, which means that members of the community might not know that their donations will not necessarily go directly to the hospital and clinics.

The fire ban was lifted after the nail-biting summer of hot, dry weather and lightning storms appeared to have come to an end. Cooler temperatures rolled in on the back of a storm along with higher levels of precipitation than had been seen for many months.

The first storm of the winter arrived not long after, bringing heavy snow and high winds that kept up their assault on the Black Hills for more than 24 hours, causing closures and accidents. The highest recorded snowfall was 27 inches northeast of Deadwood, while Sundance saw 12.3 inches and Colony, Alva, Beulah and Carlile recorded 12 inches.

November

Tammy Jundt was appointed to serve as Crook County Treasurer for the remainder of Kuhl's term. The position will be on the ballot again at the 2022 elections.

Kuhl changed her plea to "no contest" in an agreement that would see the State agree to dismiss the three misdemeanor charges against her and recommend she be given a deferred sentence and placed on two years of supervised probation.

Having closed to visitors in late summer due to the explosion of COVID-19 hospitalizations, Crook County Memorial Hospital was once again able to open its doors to visitation in both the hospital and long-term care unit.

Rare Element Resources launched a sale of common shares in a bid to raise the rest of the money needed to fund its demonstration plant in Upton.

December

The first lighting of Sundance's official Christmas tree took place following the annual parade of lights. The tree, which is situated in the center of Sundance Square, was donated by the family of Paul Jacobson in his memory.

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December

CCMSD took steps to set up its own clinic while also announcing a rebranding of its Hulett clinic, with the new name of "Hulett Hometown Clinic" and $100,000 pledged for rejuvenation of the facility.

It was announced that Crook County School District had broken its record for kindergarten enrollment with a total of 112 children this year.

Driskill, in his position as chairman of the legislative committee focused on redistricting, said he had met a bump in the road in his efforts to preserve Crook and Weston Counties as the basis of their own voting districts. The region to the south, he said, was similarly focused on its own needs and had neglected to invite him to their most recent meeting.

 
 

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