THERMOPOLIS – The combined efforts of BLM Wyoming, North Wind Construction Services and the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office led to the conviction of two individuals charged with felony depredation of federal lands.
In March 2018, Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office discovered two individuals planning to burn REDA cable, a system of power cables used to run electric submersible pumps (ESP) in the oil and gas industry, on public lands within the Gebo Mining District near Thermopolis.
Both individuals told the BLM that they intended to melt down the cables to extract copper and lead that would then be sold. Following further investigation, the BLM and North Wind Construction Services determined the pair had previously burned wire on the site and it would require extensive cleanup. Wire burning poses numerous risks related to unlawful hazardous waste disposal on public lands.
The site required excavation to remove hazardous materials, soil testing and soil refill from surrounding areas. The volume of the waste and extent of contamination resulted in high cost and the historic nature of the mining site and potential for underground mining shafts collapsing further complicated decontamination.
The Gebo wire-burn investigation resulted in two separate charges and restitution costs totaling roughly $82,000. Both suspects were found guilty of depredation of federal lands and face 3 years of probation in addition to the restitution, which was divided equally between them. The case serves a strong reminder to other members of the public that the law still applies on public lands.
“The BLM takes crimes of this nature seriously,” said BLM Special Agent Tom Hill, who led the investigation. “Actions endangering the public and natural resources will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The BLM urges the public to learn from the mistakes of these individuals. In order to make public lands and waters available to all, it is the responsibility of every visitor to abide by a set of outdoor ethics such as Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly. These ethics programs empower visitors to protect and enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Illegal activities on public lands will not be tolerated and responsible parties will be held accountable.