Wyoming news briefs for March 15

Wyoming to receive $1B from latest relief package

CASPER — Wyoming will receive over $1 billion in state aid soon, thanks to the latest stimulus package signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden. 

The federal government passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package along party lines this week, the third economic economic recovery act to pass Congress since the pandemic began last year. 

Wyoming will soon see hefty returns under the sweeping act. In addition to the approximately $1 billion in state aid, the federal government will funnel an additional $174 million directly to local municipalities in Wyoming, according to Renny MacKay, senior policy adviser to Gov. Mark Gordon. About $109 million will also be available in the form of grants for capital projects in the Equality State. 

It will take about 60 days before the state receives the money. The U.S. Treasury Department still needs to issue guidance to the governor too. 

This latest round of federal funding comes with a bit more flexibility, at least compared to past relief packages. For one, Wyoming will have more time to spend the approximately $1.36 billion. It has until the end of 2024, according to MacKay. The aid is also not restricted to only pandemic-related needs. 

The governor’s office hopes to be strategic with how the state spends its money. 

“We’re definitely putting a lot of effort into looking at both the short term and the long term to find out what opportunities exist with this money to find out how to have as significant an impact as possible,” MacKay said.


Man pleads guilty to voyeurism after store incident

CHEYENNE — A man accused of surreptitiously photographing a woman in a Target fitting room pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Laramie County District Court.

Jonathan Benitez-Bernal was charged with one count of voyeurism, a felony. A plea agreement recommends he receive a sentence of two years of supervised probation, with a suspended sentence of one to two years.

Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher set Benitez-Bernal’s sentencing for June 3.

At 4:39 p.m. Feb. 12, 2020, a Cheyenne Police officer responded to Target, 1708 Dell Range Blvd., for a call about a suspicious circumstance. A loss prevention manager at the store said she’d witnessed Benitez-Bernal enter a fitting room adjacent to where a woman was changing clothes. The manager then saw him put a cellphone through the gap between the floor and the bottom of the stall door.

The officer quickly located Benitez-Bernal with store surveillance footage, and his cellphone matched the manager’s description. While speaking with CPD detectives, he admitted to taking “a photo.”


Proposed change could cut funding

CASPER — A federal proposal to increase the population requirements for metropolitan statistical areas would threaten funding and grant eligibility for essential services in the Casper area, local officials say. 

The change proposed by the Office of Management and Budget would double the population requirement from 50,000 to 100,000 people in the area. That means that if it goes into effect, Wyoming would be the only state without a single MSA. Nationwide, 144 cities would lose their designation.

 The latest census data shows the Casper MSA, which spans all of Natrona County, hovers around 78,000 residents. The only other one in the state, centered around Cheyenne in Laramie County, was just shy of that 100,000 mark as of 2017. 

Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Supervisor Jeremy Yates said Friday that losing the MSA designation would mean losing a lot of local control over transportation planning. Here, for example, the local MPO facilitates input and federal funding for projects in places such as Evansville, Bar Nunn or the county to make sure Casper’s neighbors have access to those essential services. 

“MPOs came into existence because communities were being left out of the planning stages of transportation projects,” Yates said. “An arbitrary change from 50,000 to 100,000 would leave a lot of communities in the lurch without that amount of local control.” 


Antelope Butte seeks funding to reopen lodge

SHELL — Antelope Butte Foundation members are asking for financial assistance in completing its lodge, the last project of many in an effort to fully reopen the resort to visitors since its reopening in 2018 after 15 years.

This winter season, Antelope Butte has almost doubled its revenues over last year and increased the participation in its school and learn-to-ski programs. Construction has resumed on the Antelope Butte Lodge, and the organization needs to raise the final $335,000 of the total $4.8 million Open Antelope Butte Capital Campaign.

The last round of fundraising will be used to finish the 11,400-square-foot building that will serve as Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area’s central hub.

When complete, the lodge will house the rental and retail shops, ski patrol, food and beverage service, a grand fireplace, a conference room, restrooms and public areas on the main and upper levels with mountain view decks. Opening the lodge will allow Antelope Butte to serve more people, expand its snow sports school to reach more beginners, implement food and beverage service and increase capacity for community events as well as rentals for meetings, retreats and gatherings.

“During 2020 we had over 300 new donors who generously supported our programs,” Antelope Butte Foundation Executive Director John Kirlin said. “We’re so grateful for the support of our amazing donors and volunteers, and look forward to completing the lodge so we can continue giving back to the community.”