LARAMIE — Members of Albany County Clean Water Advocates expressed concern Tuesday about Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent’s decision to dismiss the county’s lawsuit against Tumbleweed Express, a gas station on the east side of Laramie that overlays the Casper Aquifer, which provides about half of Laramie’s drinking water.
Trent had originally sought court action to block the gas station, which has only been open intermittently during the last decade, from renovating and continuing to sell gasoline.
However, Trent’s now opted to drop her request for an injunction after reluctantly concluding that Albany County’s regulations don’t provide enough power to legally stop the gas station’s renovations and sale of gas.
Trent said it would have irresponsible to continue a lawsuit she didn’t believe she could win.
“No one likes the answer, but you have to accept it,” she said. “The commissioners would face under Rule 11 of our attorney ethics that the county would pay for that defense attorney, who’s a lot more expensive than me, and a penalty, and possibly me being sanctioned for taking a lawsuit forward when I didn’t have information (to support the case).”
Trent presented a lengthy argument defending the dismissal at a Tuesday meeting.
Afterward, however, Albany County Clean Water Advocates emailed the Laramie Boomerang a statement saying the organization still believes “the Albany County Zoning Resolution now in place gives the county the authority to address the threat presented by re-starting operations at the gas station formerly known as Tumbleweed Express in the aquifer protection zone.”
“Now that the Albany County and Prosecuting Attorney is withdrawing the complaint for injunction filed by the county to stop activity at the Tumbleweed site, ACCWA believes the county should consider other remedies,” the group said.
Even with the moratorium in place, Martin Greller of Albany County Clean Water Advocates urged county officials on Tuesday to keep a close eye on the gas station.
“The Tumbleweed question should not be thought of as over,” Greller said. “We have been dealt with by people in a manner that is fast and loose, and when that happens, we look to leadership to be strong and steadfast. … The citizens count on you to continue in your vigilance.”
The comments from the public came as commissioners formalized the 90-day moratorium on development in the aquifer protection zone at the special Tuesday meeting.
Trent said that the possibility of a future expansion by Tumbleweed Express was part of the reason for the moratorium.
“Let me tell you right now, we’re not done with this landowner,” she said. “At this point, Tumbleweed has finished their project. They have barreled over us and just kept going. … However, I have heard rumors and I have speculation that there is more expansion that is coming out there.”
The water protection advocates did express support Tuesday for the emergency moratorium on development Albany County commissioners had tentatively issued Monday.
ACCWA, however, “calls upon the county commissioners to reinstate action to prevent Tumbleweed Express from resuming operation.”
“Surely the county does not wish to send the message that it can be ‘barreled over’ as was described in today’s special county commission meeting, especially for a use that was continued illegally and is now flatly prohibited in the aquifer protection zone because it is an obvious threat to public health,” the group stated.
If Tumbleweed does pursue an expansion, Trent said the moratorium will apply and she’ll immediately file an injunction, expecting to be able to get an emergency action from a judge.
The county attorney originally filed for an injunction against Tumbleweed Express on April 23 after learning the gas station was replacing some of its equipment.
Gas stations are banned in the aquifer protection zone, but Tumbleweed Express had been grandfathered in.
By Daniel Bendtsen
Laramie Boomerang Via Wyoming News Exchange