News

Out West Roundup: Idaho lands nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve designation

Author: Associated Press - January 12, 2018 - Updated: January 19, 2018

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This June 4, 2016, photo provided by Nils Ribi Photography shows the Milky Way in the night sky at the foot of the Boulder Mountains in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho. Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve will fill a chunk of the sparsely populated region containing night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way. (Nils Ribi Photography via AP)This June 4, 2016, photo provided by Nils Ribi Photography shows the Milky Way in the night sky at the foot of the Boulder Mountains in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho. Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve will fill a chunk of the sparsely populated region containing night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way. (Nils Ribi Photography via AP)

Idaho

Idaho lands nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve

BOISE — A giant chunk of central Idaho with a dazzling night sky has become the nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.

The International Dark-Sky Association designated the 1,400-square-mile Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve. The sparsely populated area’s night skies are so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way.

“That such truly dark nighttime environments still exist in the United States is remarkable,” said J. Scott Feierabend, executive director of the Tucson, Arizona,-based association, calling the designation a milestone for the group.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky.

The central Idaho reserve covers some of the most remote and rugged areas in the state and is mostly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. has come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists.

Sun Valley, a resort destination that also has some of Idaho’s highest home values, is within the reserve as is neighboring Ketchum. Both towns have worked to limit nighttime lighting.

Stanley, a tiny mountain town in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area on the northern side of the reserve, runs mostly on tourism money and has supported the reserve with voluntary measures to limit outdoor lighting.

“Visitors can come here and experience the primeval wonder of the starry night sky,” Mayor Steve Botti said.

New Mexico

New Mexico governor, Legislature set spending priorities

SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and leading lawmakers are proposing increases in state spending on public school education, Medicaid, public safety agencies and economic development incentives for the coming fiscal year, amid a sharp increase in state income from taxes and oil-field revenues.

The two budget wish lists — from the Republican governor and the Democratic-led Legislature — both emphasize investments in early childhood education and the justice system, with pay increases assigned for teachers, prison guards, prosecutors and state workers.

Democratic House speaker Brian Egolf said the governor and lawmakers have many closely aligned priorities – including “modest” pay increases for public employees.

“A raise for hard working state employees, teachers, police officers is very much appropriate and long overdue,” he said.

Surging state tax revenues linked to a rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors have been propelling a rapid turnaround in New Mexico government finances after two years of austere budgets. State government income for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2018, is expected to surpass current annual spending by nearly $200 million.

The Legislature convenes Jan. 16 for a 30-day session that focuses on spending and taxation issues. The governor has discretion over what other matters are heard, and lawmakers can revive vetoed bills.

Last year, New Mexico plugged a budget hole with money from severance tax notes amid a hiring freeze and agency spending cuts.

Wyoming

Wyoming governor recommends $66 million decrease for school finance

CHEYENNE — The amount of money the state spends on schools and academic programs could decrease by nearly $66 million in the coming few years.

Gov. Matt Mead is recommending the state Legislature provide $1.76 billion to the Wyoming Department of Education’s school finance department for the 2019-20 biennium.

That’s $65.9 million less than the $1.83 billion the department received for the 2017-18 biennium.

A large portion of that would be allocated to the state’s 48 school districts through the education block grant model, but department officials have not yet calculated the amount.

Jed Cicarelli, supervisor of the Department of Education’s school foundation program, said they will determine those allocations in March or April.

Kari Eakins, communications director for the Department of Education, said part of the $65.9 million recommended decrease is due to state laws changed in Enrolled Act 125, which passed during the 2017 legislative session. She said in an email that the act reduced money for schools by $36 million, which amounts to 2.4 percent of K-12 funding.

The remainder is because of an increase in anticipated county revenue across the state, she said.

Another CREG forecast is expected in January and could change all these numbers again.

Eakins added that the Legislature might change the state’s education funding laws, which might also affect the amount of required funding in the school finance budget.

Nebraska

Alleged ‘neo-Nazi’ faces terrorism charges in Nebraska for railroad incident

An armed Missouri man who forcibly stopped an Amtrak train in Nebraska in October is an “alt-right neo-Nazi” who stockpiled weapons in his home, wanted to “kill black people” during recent protests in St. Louis, and may have been behind two alleged hate crimes in the area, the FBI said.

Taylor Michael Wilson, 26, of St. Charles, is facing a federal charge of terrorism attacks and other violence against railroad carriers and against mass transportation systems.

The charges stem from an October incident in which he allegedly broke into a secured area of an Amtrak train while armed, forced the train to stop and threatened Amtrak staff.

Federal court documents unsealed Wednesday detailed the charge and other allegations, including that Wilson pointed a gun at a black woman driving in St. Charles in 2016 and vandalized St. Louis restaurants with “Whites Only” signs in September.

Investigators found multiple weapons, ammunition and other tactical instruments in Wilson’s St. Charles home, including a fully automatic assault rifle and a gun that had been converted into a short-barrel rifle, both potentially violating federal gun laws.

Wilson was first arrested Oct. 22 by the Furnas County, Nebraska, Sheriff’s Office after he broke into a secured area on an Amtrak train and triggered the emergency brakes, bringing the train to a stop in a rural area about 200 miles southwest of Omaha. The train, which had about 175 people aboard, was en route to Missouri from Sacramento, Calif.

An assistant conductor felt the train stop just after 2 a.m. and went to search for the cause, according to the affidavit. He found Wilson seated in the engineer’s seat “playing with the controls.”

As Amtrak staff attempted to physically subdue Wilson, he kept reaching toward the area of his front waistband and repeatedly yelled “What are you going to do, shoot me?” Wilson, who has a Missouri concealed carry permit, had a fully loaded .38 caliber handgun in his waistband and a speed loader full of bullets in his front left pocket, according to the affidavit.

Utah

New Utah voting districts drawn in American Indian discrimination suit

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has handed down new voting districts to replace those declared discriminatory against American Indian voters in southeastern Utah, but a prominent county commissioner said that the county plans to appeal.

The new election districts are designed to give an equal voice in local races to native residents who make up about half the population. Mark Maryboy called them a well-deserved victory that comes after a half century of struggle.

“It means a great socio-economic development for the Navajo people in San Juan County,” said Maryboy, who is Navajo and a former county commissioner. “Navajos make better county officials. I don’t think Navajos will discriminate against the white county population.”

San Juan County commissioner Phil Lyman, though, said the changes unfairly carve up the county’s largest city into three districts.

“It’s unnecessary to divide up a town like that,” Lyman said. “It’s intended to harm Blanding.”

The Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona and New Mexico and as well as Utah, sued the county in 2012. They said school board and county commission districts were racially gerrymandered.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby declared the boundaries unconstitutional last year, and later rejected new maps drawn by both sides. The judge appointed an independent expert and personally ran public meetings to hear local feedback before handing down the new boundaries on Thursday.

Ethel Branch, Navajo Nation Attorney General, called it a hard-fought victory that remedies long-standing injustice against Navajo voters.

Associated Press