Pinedale’s view on energy is helpful but where do we go from here?

It helps to get an outside perspective. That’s why last week’s visit by folks from Pinedale, Wyo., was a good thing.
I found it interesting to read the responses by local leaders on what they took away from the time spent talking with the representatives from Pinedale and, most importantly, where they thought we go from here.
Five representatives from Pinedale and Sublette County, Wyo., spent a couple of days here last week, meeting with Meeker and Rangely and Rio Blanco County officials and exchanging ideas on dealing with the impact of energy development. A town hall meeting took place last Wednesday at the Fairfield Center. About 50 people — most of them elected officials, community leaders and representatives from energy companies — attended. I heard one person in attendance say she wished there had been more people there in a non-official capacity.
The group from Pinedale, which is about five and a half hours or so from here, was made up of a mix of community leaders from that area. There was a county commissioner, a town council member, a county planner, the coordinator of a group called the Sublette Community Partnership (made up of energy companies, local governments, the county and the University of Wyoming) and a socio-economic analyst.
Pinedale is the seat for Sublette County. Established in 1921, Sublette is the newest county in Wyoming. Interestingly, there’s not a stop light in the entire county. Talk about wide-open spaces.
How dramatic has the impact of oil and gas drilling been to the area? Sublette County represents a little more than 1 percent of Wyoming’s total population. But the county’s $4.4 billion assessed valuation accounts for more than 20 percent of the valuation for the entire state — the largest percentage of any other county in Wyoming.
Histor-ically, ranching has been the primary industry in Sublette County. Though, of course, the dominant industry now is natural gas drilling. The area has gone through boom periods before, in the 1950s and 1980s.
I thought the Pinedale folks were knowledgeable, articulate and candid when discussing their successes — as well as their failures — in working with energy companies and managing the many challenges that go along with a boom period.
Even though my sister lives in Wyoming, I had never heard of Pinedale until recently, when Margie Joy, one of the organizers of last week’s meetings, told me about the town and the pending visit by officials from there. Since then, I had someone from the newspaper give me a July 2005 National Geographic that features an interesting article titled, “All Fired Up: Environmental nightmare or crucial energy source? A natural gas boom is transforming public lands in the Rockies, pitting Westerner against Westerner.” Much of the article focuses on Pinedale.
Then I stumbled upon a new non-fiction book at the library called, “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant,” by Alexandra Fuller. Again, Pinedale is mentioned frequently. The book recounts the tragic story of a restless young man who works — and not to spoil the ending, but dies — on the oil rigs on the wind-whipped plains of Wyoming. It’s a good read, but not a flattering portrayal of the oil drilling companies.
If you want to find out more about Pinedale and the impact of energy development, and how it compares to this area, here are a couple of Web sites to check out: www.pinedaleonline.com and www.sublette-se.org. From there, click on “impact-summary” and the “State of the County Report.” There’s some fascinating stuff on the Sublette County Socioeconomics site, and some of it will sound eerily familiar.
Thanks to all of the local leaders, especially M&M — Margie Joy and Mayor Mandi Etheridge — who had a hand in making the visit by the Pinedale folks happen. A lot of good information was shared, but it can’t stop there.
The challenge now is what we will do with that information.
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Last week’s letters to the editor about high gas prices in Rio Blanco County had to ring true with many people in the area. People are curious why gas prices have been slower to drop here than in other parts of the state and in other parts of the country.
On Aug. 12, the Glenwood Springs newspaper reported the average price statewide was less than $4 a gallon since the end of July. At the time, the price was $4.29 in Meeker and about the same in Rangely, if not higher.
In talking with friends back in Kansas, they have been paying under $4 a gallon for quite some time. A check of my hometown paper showed prices as low as $3.52 a gallon over the Labor Day weekend.
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It appears the situation at Rangely District Hospital has stabilized, which is a move in the right direction.
The first days I spent meeting people in Rangely, after coming to the paper, I heard several comments from residents who expressed concern about the hospital. I met former CEO Jason McCormick during that initial visit and had a nice, but brief, exchange. I don’t know all of the issues that resulted in McCormick and the hospital parting company, but it sounded like there were some problems. I’m not sure what those were — neither the hospital nor McCormick were talking after the change — but it appears the situation is improving.
Jack Rich, chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, appears pleased with the job interim CEO Merrill Frank is doing.
“I think things are going well right now,” Rich said. “The transition has been accepted well within the hospital and the community, and the board has been satisfied with the way Merrill has taken charge in the organization.”
Rich said the board is in no hurry to hire a permanent replacement and may wait until after the first of the year.
All of that is good news. The town needs to have confidence the hospital is in good hands.
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There’s no longer a merry-go-round on the playground at Meeker Elementary School. The merry-go-round was removed prior to the start of classes Aug. 25.
Principal Jason Hightower said the merry-go-round was taken out for safety reasons.
“We just had too many kids getting hurt,” Hightower said.
He also cited an insurance audit report that said of the merry-go-round, “Fix it or get rid of it.”
I remember from my grade-school days, merry-go-rounds were fine, especially for spinning the girls, but I was more of a dodgeball player myself.
Oh, yeah, you can’t do that anymore, either.