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afrank / News Record Photo/August Frank 

Nonperishable food items, like granola bars and crackers left over from last school year, are at the Blessings in a Backpack warehouse in Gillette

Cloud Peak has buyer for PRB mines

Cloud Peak Energy Corp., one of the Powder River Basin’s largest coal mine operators, has accepted a bid from Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to buy “substantially all of Cloud Peak Energy’s assets.”

Cloud Peak announced the sale Friday, which will be considered for approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday.

Navajo Transitional Energy has agreed to buy the company’s Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Campbell County, along with the Spring Creek mine in southern Montana, according to a Cloud Peak statement announcing the winning bidder. Navajo also will own the Sequatchie Valley reclamation project.

Navajo has agreed to pay a cash deposit of $15.7 million when the sale closes and assume a $40 million second lien promissory note and five-year royalty on future tons of coal produced at the PRB mines. Navajo also will pay up to $20 million in post-petition debts accrued during the bankruptcy process.

The company also has agreed to assume pre- and post-petition federal, state and local tax liabilities for the company, make state and federal royalty payments and assume all reclamation obligations.

That’s good news for Campbell County, which is owed an $8.3 million production tax payment that was due just hours after Cloud Peak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on May 10.

“I am excited they’re doing right by agreeing to pay the taxes and we’ll look forward to hopefully seeing (Navajo Transitional Energy) in Gillette and get familiar with their management,” said Campbell County Commissioner Mark Christensen.

He also said that the company has bid on all of Cloud Peak’s operational mines is a good sign it plans to continue mining coal in the Powder River Basin, which is good news for the nearly 1,200 workers at the three operations.

“Right now on this day, I’m just happy there was a bidder wanting to keep these going and pay the tax,” he said. “It looks to me like they want to be a good neighbor and I think that’s all really exciting. … this is really the best possible option we could have had.”

It’s also the result of a successful bid and auction process. said Cloud Peak President and CEO Colin Marshall in statement announcing the successful bid.

“We are pleased to announce the conclusion of our robust and competitive marketing process,” he said. “We have achieved an outcome that we believe supports the interests of all our stakeholders.”

Marshall also said the mines will “continue to operate as normal” during the sale transition.

Based in Farmington, New Mexico, Navajo Transitional Energy Co. owns the Navajo Mine in the Four Corners area and is organized under the Navajo Nation.

While it’s unknown what Navajo Transitional’s plans are for the PRB mines, that it bought all three operational properties and that the deal includes royalties based on future production, “They’re saying is they’re assuming they can operate them and generate enough cash flow to make those commitments,” said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming College of Business.

Because the Navajo Nation governs itself, it also could have some tax advantages as operator of the mines, which could make them more competitive, he said.

“One of the things about the Navajo bid is they probably have favorable tax status for Native corporations,” he said. “What they’re potentially looking at having there is an interesting proposition.

“The bottom line is they assume they can make cash flow there, so that may replace some of the earnings they’ll lose on the Navajo power plant.”

Godby was referring to the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, which gets its coal from the Navajo Mine. The coal-fired plant is on a track to shut down. Because the company has decades of experience owning the Navajo Mine, branching out into the Powder River Basin isn’t that much of a stretch, Godby said.

“They clearly have experience in Western coal,” he said. “This is basically investing in the best coal basin in the country and potentially keep them in coal, where the pending plant and coal mine shutdown would significantly decrease their future revenues.”

It also should be welcome news to Cloud Peak’s 1,200 employees, including more than 950 at the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines in Campbell County, he said.

“This is promising news for the basin in the sense that production can continue,” he said.

Wyoming proud of vote that made it the 'Equality State'

Wyoming’s landmark bill granting women the right to vote — the basis for its nickname as the Equality State — would have been reversed if not for the vote of one man with ties to Gillette.

This year, Wyoming celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Territorial Legislature’s approval of the women’s suffrage act in 1869. For years, residents of Wyoming have proudly declared that it was the first government in the nation to grant women the right to vote.

What is lesser known is that women’s suffrage was almost repealed just two years after its passage. In fact, the continued political equality of Wyoming women was saved by the vote of just one man: John Fosher.

Gillette’s Glenn Fosher, a retired engineer with PacifiCorp, is the great-great-nephew of that man. But while Glenn’s father told him that John Fosher served in the Territorial Legislature in the 1880s, the family didn’t talk about his legacy, except that his vote prevented the repeal of women’s suffrage.

Jim Allen, owner of the Diamond 4 Ranch in Lander, also is Fosher’s great-great-nephew.

Like Glenn Fosher, he knows little about his ancestor or his pivotal vote for women.

“Growing up, we heard nothing other than, ‘Oh yeah, he saved women’s suffrage,’ like it was no big deal,” said Allen, who served one term (2015-2018) in the Wyoming Legislature representing the same district his ancestor represented. “It’s huge, but it was not portrayed that way. Growing up, we didn’t understand the huge significance (of Fosher’s vote) in terms of world history.”

University of Wyoming history professor Renee M. Laegreid said that to understand why legislators tried to repeal the suffrage act, it is first necessary to understand why suffrage was initially approved.

Passage of women’s suffrage

In the late 1860s, Wyoming’s population was sparse and many of its residents had come to the state to mine or work on the railroad. Most of the railroad workers were disaffected Southern Democrats, said Laegreid, who specialized in gender and culture issues in the late 19th to mid-20th century American West.

“The Reconstruction was in full swing, most of them had fought against the Union and they were anti-blacks,” she said.

Other settlers, like Esther Hobart Morris, who would become the nation’s first female justice of the peace, were suffragettes from the Northeast who were eager for women to win the right to vote.

The majority of Wyoming’s people — and the territorial governor, secretary and attorney general who had been appointed by Republican President Ulysses Grant — were Republican.

Before the Civil War, women in the North had advocated for suffrage and abolition, but after the war, abolitionist Republicans embraced the cause of black men’s suffrage, Laegreid said. Giving black men the right to vote took precedence over women’s rights, and that motivated some who may not otherwise have supported women’s suffrage to become proponents.

The sponsor of the suffrage act, William Bright, a Southern Democrat from Virginia, may have been such a man, according to some historic accounts.

But Phil Roberts, retired UW professor of history, argued that Bright’s motivations in promoting suffrage were probably not racially based. Bright’s much younger wife, Julia, was “an aware, literate and well-traveled woman,” Roberts said, who may have had a great deal of influence on her husband’s view of women’s suffrage.

Laegreid agreed that race was only one of several considerations when the issue presented itself to lawmakers.

“Part of the reason why suffrage got passed was racism. That was one of (the reasons), but not the only one,” said Laegreid. “There were people who really did believe women had the right to vote. And part of it was marketing Wyoming Territory.”

A prevailing thought among lawmakers was that suffrage would draw more women and families to the Wyoming Territory, where men outnumbered women six to one. It’s been said legislators wanted to increase the territory’s population with a mind toward achieving statehood, but that didn’t happen until many years later in 1890.

Some historical accounts of the measure’s passage also say the Democrats wanted to embarrass Gov. John Campbell, a Republican, by presenting him with a bill he most likely would not sign. The presumed thinking was that Campbell, a supporter of the black vote, would veto the measure and show himself to be a hypocrite. If in fact this was the plan, it was foiled when Campbell signed the bill without hesitation.

For whatever reasons, women’s suffrage was passed — without conflict — in 1869.

“Most of the suffrage advocates knew that it would come first in a territory because the legislative process is much easier in a territory than it was in a state,” Laegreid said.

Louisa Swain made her mark as the first woman in America to vote in a general election when she cast her ballot in Laramie on Sept. 6, 1870, and for two years women in the Wyoming Territory exercised their right to vote. About 1,000 women voted in the first election, Laegreid said, and most voted Republican.

“The Democrats were (upset),” she said. “They said, ‘We gave them the right to vote, and they voted for Republicans?!’”

“Morris became the justice of the peace for South Pass City,” she continued. “She was a very strong woman, didn’t take any BS off anybody, and that didn’t go over very well either.”

The attempt to repeal

By 1871 when the Second Territorial Legislature convened, its political composition had completely changed. The entire body boasted only one incumbent, Rep. Ben Sheeks, who had voted against the suffrage act. Bright, the sponsor of the bill two years earlier, had not sought re-election to the state Council, the body that became the state Senate.

Gone was the entirely Democratic composition of both the House of Representatives and the Council. Now, Democrats held nine of the 13 seats in the House and four of the nine Council seats. The remaining five Council members were three Republicans, one independent and one member of a newly formed third party called the People’s Party. That one People’s Party representative was John Fosher.

In his opening address to the Legislature, Campbell spoke highly of women’s achievements since suffrage was adopted.

“It is simple justice to say that women entering, for the first time in the history of the country, upon these new and untried duties have conducted themselves in every respect with as much tact, sound judgment, and good sense, as men,” he said.

Nevertheless, a measure to repeal women’s right to vote proposed by Rep. C.E. Castle was passed by both chambers.

Campbell vetoed it, saying that while he would like to maintain the harmonious relationship he enjoyed with the legislative bodies, “A regard ... for the rights of those whose interests are to be affected by it, and for what I believe to be the best interests of the territory, will not allow me to do so.”

In his lengthy message, Campbell disputed, one by one, each argument for repealing women’s suffrage and ended with the following appeal:

“For the first time in the history of our country we have a government to which the noble words of our magna carta of freedoms may be applied, not as a mere figure of speech, but as expressing a simple grand truth, for it is a government which derives all just powers from the consent of the governed.

“We should pause long and weigh carefully the probable results of our action before consenting to change this government. A regard for the genius of our institutions, for the fundamental principles of American autonomy, and for immutable principles of right and justice, will not permit me to sanction this change.”

The Legislature’s House of Representatives garnered enough votes to override the governor’s veto, but a two-thirds majority also was required of the Council.

According to a story by Michael Massie in the magazine “Annals of Wyoming,” Fosher wrestled a bit with his vote. A South Pass saloon keeper, Fosher was concerned about what effect the votes of women — who generally supported the temperance movement — might have on his business. On the other hand, he personally supported women’s suffrage and his constituents, largely Democrats who had opposed it at first, had come to accept it.

A Republican member of the Council, sensing Fosher’s indecision, arranged for him to have dinner with Wyoming suffragette Mrs. Amalia Post, who may have influenced Fosher’s decision to vote against the veto override and preserve the right of women to vote.

When the time came for the vote, five Council members voted to override the veto, thus repealing women’s suffrage, and three voted to keep it intact. Fosher, as chairman of the Council, was the last to cast his vote.

“One clip in the Cheyenne newspaper said ‘all eyes were on him’ as he voted,” Allen said. “We never heard why (he) voted as he did.”

Pride in Wyoming’s achievement

The fact that women’s voting rights were almost snatched from them just two years after they were granted could cast a cloud over Wyoming’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

But according to Roberts, the repeal effort should not detract from the state’s pride in the achievement.

Elsewhere, women’s suffrage was dealt more serious blows. The state of New Jersey and territories of Utah and Washington all granted — then repealed — women’s right to vote.

“(In Wyoming, suffrage) stuck by one vote, and that was one time,” said Roberts. “We are justly proud that we kept it without any second-guessing after that.”

He added that while some historical accounts cast aspersions on the motivations behind passing the suffrage act, there were proponents whose support was based solely on the principle that women should have the right to vote.

“Gov. Campbell signed the suffrage act, not out of a desire to increase population or balance out the black vote or anything like that,” Roberts said. “He was a suffragist. And he vetoed the repeal effort. It would have been easy sledding for him to give up and allow the repeal.”

And it may have been profitable for him as well.

According to the Wyoming State Museum, Campbell recorded in his diary that he was offered $2,000 (the equivalent of more than $42,000 in 2019) if he signed the repeal of the Woman Suffrage Act. Campbell rejected the offer.

But the state hasn’t necessarily lived up to all the potential of its nickname, Laegreid said.

She spoke of a Western historian who is challenging the “John Wayne” view of the West and instead looking at the dark underside of Western history: the government’s treatment of Native Americans, the human cost of building the railroad, the contributions and sacrifices of pioneer women and the effect of early mining on the environment.

“There might be pushback from people who like the Wyoming story, but it’s only a dark side if you’re intent on looking at the West as a bright shining example of progress,” she said. “Underneath that lie is a reality. Women’s suffrage is part of that too.”

As a member of the Governor’s Council for the Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Celebration, Laegreid helps to promote activities across the state — from coloring books for kids to the dedication of a new trail near Lander to a limerick-writing contest — that will mark both the passage of the bill and the first vote cast by a woman. At the same time, however, she points out that Wyoming has fewer women holding public office than other states and, according to some studies, the greatest gender pay gap of any state in the Union.

“We’re talking the talk but not walking the walk,” Laegreid said. “So many of us are excited about not just celebrating, but saying, ‘Come on, folks. We can do better.’”

“Every state, region and country has its origin story, and suffrage is part of Wyoming’s origin story,” she added. “This anniversary is a good time to reexamine where we came from and what we need to do going forward to truly make it the Equality State.”

afrank / News Record Photo/August Frank 

Cameron McCann of the Packers runs the ball down the field to score a touchdown against the Chargers on the first day of action for the Campbell County Junior Football Association on Saturday. The Packers defeated the Chargers 20-6.

News Record File Photo/Rhianna Gelhart 

A Cyclone Drilling Inc. rig drilled deep beneath the Powder River Basin this past winter to take core samples as a part of the CarbonSAFE project to see if it is feasible to sequester waste carbon dioxide there.

Economic development hopes to start revolving loan fund to help businesses

Starting a new business is difficult, especially when there aren’t many who will invest money into an idea that has not yet become a reality.

Phil Christopherson, CEO of Energy Capital Economic Development, hopes to create a revolving loan fund to help businesses and give his organization a chance to go after projects “that normally wouldn’t come into being.”

To do this, however, he needs $200,000 in seed money. He hopes to get $100,000 each from Cambpell County and the city of Gillette. He met with commissioners at their morning workshop Thursday.

The commissioners expressed interest in the idea, but made no funding commitments Thursday. Christopherson had not yet met with the city.

The fund is “a standard economic development tool that we just don’t have in our arsenal,” he said.

Whether a business needs a short-term loan, an entrepreneur needs some start-up money or a company needs to pay for a study to determine the feasibility of a project, they could apply for a loan from the fund.

If they get the loan and they’re successful, they would pay it back with interest, and the money would go back into the revolving fund.

“We’d have a small committee to vet the proposals,” Christopherson said. “We would closely look at their business plan. We don’t want to lose the money, but some of these things are pretty risky.”

Commissioner D.G. Reardon said he was concerned with Economic Development competing with banks. Christopherson said he hopes to partner with local banks. His organization already has done this for some of the tenants in the FUEL Business Incubator.

“We’ve partnered with the banks, reduced the risk for the banks and opened up avenues for those businesses,” he said.

“Everybody’s OK with being the second investor,” said Commissioner Mark Christensen. “Nobody wants to be the first.”

This revolving loan fund would act as that first investor that leads to a business getting other investors on board, Christopherson said.

While the commissioners are interested in the revolving loan fund, they asked Christopherson to put together a presentation on how it would be structured and managed, and what partnerships there would be.

“It’s critical to work with the banks, because they can manage getting your money back, which is helpful,” Christensen said.