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Despite the names of state and federal agencies sounding like they protect water, most of them do so only in limited ways and generally after the fact (to fix the blame for the loss of water quality).

The Albany County Commission and the Laramie City Council hold primary responsibility for preventing degradation of drinking water sources.

The Albany County Commission controls development over most of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area and in the Laramie River drainage. The Laramie City Council controls development over the small part of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area that lies within the city limits.

The type and extent of surface development – businesses using various types of potentially hazardous materials, landscaping with herbicides and pesticides, residences/businesses relying on septic systems – all can affect the quality of water that goes into the City of Laramie municipal system (and the connected South of Laramie Water and Sewer District) as well as private domestic wells east of town.

Because decisions made by the Albany County Commission and the Laramie City Council are so critical to protection of our drinking water quality, Albany County Clean Water Advocates began surveying candidates for these offices. The 2020 questionnaire and responses from county commission candidates are shown below. The 2020 questionnaire for city council candidates will be sent after the primary election in August (no city council candidates will be eliminated in the primary election).

The Albany County Commission Now
Currently, the Albany County Commission is comprised of Terri Jones, Chair; Pete Gosar, Commissioner; and Heber Richardson, Commissioner. Gosar was elected for his first four-year term in 2018, and Richardson was re-elected to a second four-year term at the same time. Jones is completing her first four-year term and is running for re-election.

2020 Albany County Commission Candidates
Terri Jones (incumbent, Republican)
Bob Kersey (challenger, Republican)
Sue Ibarra (challenger, Democrat)
Klaus Halbsgut (challenger, Independent)*
*An independent candidate must gather a specified number of signatures of registered voters to be placed on the general election ballot. The signatures must be turned in for verification not less than 70 days before a general election.
Either Jones or Kersey will emerge from the Republican primary in August to face Ibarra in the November general election.

2020 Questionnaire for Albany County Commission Candidates
The 2020 questionnaire and instructions for Albany County Commission Candidates are shown in full below. The questionnaire was sent by e-mail, with paper copy following, on June 5. Candidates were sent a friendly reminder on June 18, with a final deadline of 5 pm on June 22 – a period of over two weeks to respond.

Candidate Terri Jones: No Response.
Candidate Bob Kersey: No Response.
Candidate Sue Ibarra: Ms. Ibarra’s unedited responses are shown below, along with the instructions and questions as sent to the candidates.
Candidate Klaus Halbsgut: Mr. Halbsgut’s unedited responses are shown following Ms. Ibarra’s. Note that Mr. Halbsgut is not yet officially a candidate; to appear as an independent candidate on the general election ballot, he must turn in the required number of signatures by August 25.


Reponses from Sue Ibarra

Question 1
The County’s version of the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan recommends updating the plan every two years. It has been almost 10 years since the last update. Updating provides the opportunity to incorporate the most recent data (well logs, geologic mapping, site-specific investigations) into accurately defining the western boundary of the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone (APOZ). The current boundary is known to be incorrect in several places.

The APOZ boundary marks where at least 75 feet of Satanka shale covers and protects the aquifer from pollutants. By using current data and science, we can separate vulnerable land (inside the boundary) from that which is safe for development, thereby protecting our water supply. If elected, will you commit to a boundary review within the next year? Please explain.

Answer 1
Yes, I will readily commit to a boundary review. The boundary was contested by professionals again this past year when the Tumbleweed controversy came to light. Commissioner Gosar even proposed to pay for the review with personal funds, and still the study was shot down by the majority of the commissioners. Until we know exactly where the western boundary of the APOZ lies, our aquifer remains vulnerable.

Question 2
How important is it to you to work with the City of Laramie on aquifer protection matters? If elected, will you support a joint effort to update and unify the City and County Casper Aquifer Protection Plans? Please explain.

Answer 2
I believe it is very important the City and County work together to protect our drinking water. With the aquifer being the source for about 60% of the city’s drinking water and 100% for those homeowners that fall within the Casper Aquifer recharge area, it only makes sense that the two government entities work together. If elected, I will commit to updating and unifying the Aquifer Protection Plan and make it a priority.

Question 3
The APOZ takes up less than 2% of Albany County’s land area. The Pilot Hill project preserves a small fraction of this zone as open space. If elected, will you commit to using the County Commissioners’ existing zoning authority to preserve the rural nature of the remaining portion of the APOZ?

Answer 3
Protecting all the space included in the APOZ will always be a priority with me. The Pilot Hill project will conserve wildlife habitats while providing recreational and educational opportunities, but it protects only a small part of the aquifer recharge zone from development. I will support all efforts to retain the rural nature of the entire aquifer protection area.

Question 4
Zoning regulations may constrain private property rights, but the unfettered exercise of those rights may risk pollution of our drinking water. Wyoming’s Constitution gives ownership of water to the people, through the state, creating a public property right. If elected, how will you balance “private property rights” versus the public’s right to clean drinking water?

Answer 4
While I support the right of individuals to own private property, private property ownership must co-exist with the need to protect the public’s health and ensuring sound stewardship of our water supply. In our state, water and air are resources that have ownership by the public as a whole and are not assets held by any individual private entity. Private land ownership cannot be used to the detriment of the greater public.

Question 5
Albany County has zoning regulations and a comprehensive plan. When purchasing property, owners might expect that their rights will be protected through enforcement of the existing zoning regulations. Yet the County Commissioners often approve exceptions for a single landowner, even though that exception may adversely affect neighbors’ property values. If elected, how will you address such competing property rights?

Answer 5
For reasons such as this, comprehensive plans need to be progressive in their planning for future growth while protecting original zoning classifications. Future development does not mean uncontrolled development. Zoning regulations are put in place to give an area a particular character (for example, rural residential vs. urban residential) and to preserve property values in accordance with that character. Exceptions to existing zoning regulations should only be approved after there is proven assurance of no adverse effect on neighboring property values.

Question 6
A year ago, the County allowed the Tumbleweed gas station to operate again, even though gas stations are prohibited in the aquifer protection zone. Recently, the gas station owners were cited by the state Department of Environmental Quality for failure to report and investigate a possible fuel leak. If elected, will you advocate for the installation of a monitor well on County property near Tumbleweed to provideearly warning of pollution that could affect local residents’ water wells? Please explain

Answer 6
The Tumbleweed gas station is a threat to our clean drinking water under its grandfathered status. I support strengthening the county’s zoning resolutions now to eliminate further nonconforming development. Because Tumbleweed is operating with the use of 50+ year-old tanks and recently failed to report a possible leak, it should not be allowed to expand beyond its current size or scope. I support the installation of a monitor well on the county right-of-way near Tumbleweed, or any other suitable place, and strongly support implementing the recommendations of the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan to establish a network of monitoring wells. I am eager to work with the City to get this done quickly.


Reponses from Klaus Halbsgut

Question 1
The County’s version of the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan recommends updating the plan every two years. It has been almost 10 years since the last update. Updating provides the opportunity to incorporate the most recent data (well logs, geologic mapping, site-specific investigations) into accurately defining the western boundary of the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone (APOZ). The current boundary is known to be incorrect in several places.

The APOZ boundary marks where at least 75 feet of Satanka shale covers and protects the aquifer from pollutants. By using current data and science, we can separate vulnerable land (inside the boundary) from that which is safe for development, thereby protecting our water supply. If elected, will you commit to a boundary review within the next year? Please explain.

Answer 1
The simple answer is YES. I ran for commissioner in 2018 with the understanding that Albany County’s aquifer was in danger. I did not realize the extent of the danger to the aquifer. I have read multiple scientific reports submitted to the county & city over multiple decades and I believe we have been extremely fortunate to not have had a catastrophic contamination event. I will always vote for the protection of water quality in the county including the aquifer!

Question 2
How important is it to you to work with the City of Laramie on aquifer protection matters? If elected, will you support a joint effort to update and unify the City and County Casper Aquifer Protection Plans? Please explain.

Answer 2
I believe that in order to protect the aquifer the city and county have no choice but to work together. The majority of the aquifer is in the county & will need the commissioners to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the city’s main water source. The city has only a small percentage of the aquifer that they directly control, without the county’s help, it does not matter how well the city manages their portion. The APOZ needs to be expanded (updated) & more monitoring of wells should be required. I have established relationships with many city officials including the current ward 1 representatives. If elected I look forward to working with the city to help with aquifer protection. The city will have a friend on the commission concerning water quality.

Question 3
The APOZ takes up less than 2% of Albany County’s land area. The Pilot Hill project preserves a small fraction of this zone as open space. If elected, will you commit to using the County Commissioners’ existing zoning authority to preserve the rural nature of the remaining portion of the APOZ?

Answer 3
I have a desire to give a long answer here, but it is not necessary. Again the simple answer here is YES!

Question 4
Zoning regulations may constrain private property rights, but the unfettered exercise of those rights may risk pollution of our drinking water. Wyoming’s Constitution gives ownership of water to the people, through the state, creating a public property right. If elected, how will you balance “private property rights” versus the public’s right to clean drinking water?

Answer 4
(See answer 5)

Question 5
Albany County has zoning regulations and a comprehensive plan. When purchasing property, owners might expect that their rights will be protected through enforcement of the existing zoning regulations. Yet the County Commissioners often approve exceptions for a single landowner, even though that exception may adversely affect neighbors’ property values. If elected, how will you address such competing property rights?

Answer 5
I think these two questions blend together, so I hope to answer them in one paragraph. I have had a business in Laramie for almost 3 decades. It is fair to say, I am a capitalist. I would not ever, without good reason infringe on anybody’s right to make a dollar. Having said that, I will always vote to protect the aquifer. Our water quality needs to be protected at all costs. The financial gain of the few, should not outweigh the financial pain of the many. If our water exceeds safe drinking levels the cost to rectify the situation will be enormous. The city, county, state will be facing historical shortfalls of revenue. Where will the money come from, want to guess?

Question 6
A year ago, the County allowed the Tumbleweed gas station to operate again, even though gas stations are prohibited in the aquifer protection zone. Recently, the gas station owners were cited by the state Department of Environmental Quality for failure to report and investigate a possible fuel leak. If elected, will you advocate for the installation of a monitor well on County property near Tumbleweed to provideearly warning of pollution that could affect local residents’ water wells? Please explain

Answer 6
Without a doubt, there should be no question, yes, yes!! I would vote for regular testing all along the aquifer, but especially around the gas station. I have a email from the Wyoming DEQ that states that Tumbleweed’s gas station is still using the original tanks from 1969. Ask google how long underground storage tanks last. I suspect you won’t be surprised to find out it’s less than 51 years. My family ran a gas station in the late 70’s early 80’, I have a great appreciation of that particular kind of business. I personally know of many instances of human error that caused major fuel spills at our Texaco station. I was a teenager and did not appreciate the fact that the toxic spill went right into the storm drain in the street. It really does not matter how many precautions you take, human error will happen. Is this the kind of business, that we want holding our drinking water hostage. Think about that! For the record, I would have voted against allowing the gas station to open. If elected, I believe the gas station should be held to a higher standard & if it fails to comply it should be closed.


Copy of letter sent to candidates

Dear Candidate for Albany County Commission,

Albany County Clean Water Advocates is a group of local residents concerned with protecting our drinking water supplies. Development within most of the Casper Aquifer Protection Area is controlled by the Albany County Commissioners under their zoning authority. We invite you to answer the following questions to help inform voters’ decisions during the 2020 election.

We plan to disseminate your responses in full via our website and other media. Our website features a video about the Casper Aquifer, and our website library at albanycountycleanwateradvocates.org contains links to many documents pertaining to our community water supply.

We are sending you the questionnaire via email and a print copy. Please feel free to respond either way, although we encourage an email response to avoid misinterpreting handwriting. You may simply enter your answers in this word document and reply. (Also, please feel free to reply if you have any questions or comments about the questionnaire.) If you prefer to mail your answer, our address is P.O. Box 1753, Laramie, 82073.

Because we expect many voters will choose to vote using an absentee ballot, we respectfully request your responses by 5 pm on Monday, June 22. Thank you so much for your participation!

Please respond to the following six questions at whatever length you feel is appropriate. Responses will be edited for length only if the material is not relevant to the question.

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