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West Fork Dam Supporters Mull Land Transfer Option

Leon Reed
Flickr Creative Commons

Supporters of an $80 million dam project in south-central Wyoming are looking at the possibility of a federal land transfer to secure the land for the site. It’s the only remaining path forward for the project since legislators chose not to fully fund it. 

Supporters were hoping for $40 million but only received $4.7 million, and Wyoming Water Development Director Harry LaBonde said they can only use that money with legislative approval.

LaBonde said a land swap with the federal government could salvage the project, but said it would be better if it was approved by Congress, though, rather than by the U.S. Forest Service.

“It does simplify the NEPA process if Congress ultimately were to take that action,” LaBonde said. “[Then] they have made the decision to transfer those lands.”

NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act that requires data and public input to move forward on big projects like this one. According to LaBonde, a congressional land transfer would save the state millions of dollars and years of approval time.

But Gary Wockner, director of the advocacy group "Save the Colorado," said he doesn’t think a land transfer would be that easy.

“If they try to pour a massive amount of cement across this creek and flood a bunch of wetlands, then I still think they’re going to have to require permits from the federal government.”

But LaBonde said the state of Colorado may help with the cost because the project would also benefit its ranchers.

“They have been having discussions among themselves and there is very much an interest in Colorado to develop additional storage in this basin as well.”

Wockner disagrees. He said Colorado isn’t in a position to help because of its own financial problems.

“That Colorado would give some money to Wyoming to build a dam in Wyoming seems pretty farfetched,” said Wockner. “You know, but anything can happen in the water world.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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