Medicine Bow readies for a boom

Feb 10, 2012

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There really isn’t much to Medicine Bow.  It house roughly 280 residents and the town is just a few blocks long.  It has some abandoned buildings that show some semblance of a downtown from years past.  The two main drags are highways that take the majority to travelers to Laramie, Casper and Rawlins.  But if the D-K-R-W project actually gets underway, things could change.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.          

BOB BECK:  It’s a sunny day along highway 30 in Medicine Bow, where an occasional vehicle passes. The community’s three most popular businesses, the local bar, the convenience store and the Historic Virginian Hotel all have customers, but other than that the community isn’t exactly bustling.  Kenda Coleman is familiar with the scene, having been a resident of the community for 33 years.  She currently serves on the same town council as her son the Mayor.  Her husband is on the planning commission. 

Coleman was in the community when it still was in the midst of a uranium and coal boom and has heard various rumors about how the town would rebound…after it busted.  It’s led to some conversation in her town.

KENDA COLEMAN: They keep referring to DKRW as the famous 4 letters they are waiting to see.

BECK: But  Coleman is optimistic.   The company already has a buyer for gasoline and if that sticks, she believes this project should be different than some others.

COLEMAN:  It’s a company that’s going to utilize the resources here.  Make something better out of the resources here and they don’t have to rely on the outside so much, you know what I am saying?  They have to rely on a buyer, but they don’t have to transfer as much.

BECK: Her husband James Coleman is chairman of the town planning and zoning commission by night, and by day he is a science teacher in Hanna.  As he sits in his classroom he remembers when he first came to Medicine Bow when it housed coal and uranium workers.

JAMES COLEMAN: It had some good points and some bad points, but it was a live living town.  We had a grocery store which we don’t have now, we had gas stations, we had services for our community.

BECK: Coleman is hopeful that D-K-R-W will get them back to that point.  But he says they have to be prepared, so they have been furiously working to get the community ready for a possible population boom.  He admits that some in the community are apprehensive, but he is not among them.

JAMES COLEMAN:  We need to grow, because small quiet communities all too often disappear into the sand and we don’t want to do that.

BECK: And grow it will.

TOM SHROEDER: The in-migrating workforce should be considerable.

BECK: That’s Tom Schroeder of the Department of Environmental Qualities Industrial Siting Division.  He says the town of just over 280 people, could grow to just over a thousand.  Some of the workers will be short term and simply require temporary housing.   But others will be there long haul.  Schroeder is also projecting that if the company is successful, Carbon County could see some spinoff companies.

While many are excited, there are others that have mixed emotions. Inside city hall sits Public Works Director Charlie George who’s been working on the project since 2006. 

George says the company is close to acquiring the financing to move forward, but he quickly adds that the town of Medicine Bow is nowhere close to being able to pay for the needed infrastructure. 

CHARLIE GEORGE:  It’s hard to understand exactly how much impact it’s going to be on a small town.

BECK: George says the challenge is to not do too much too early, in case the project does fall apart.  But since it appears to him that it is going to move forward, they have been working on a few key things.

GEORGE:  We’re replacing eight miles of our water transmission line from the well to our treatment plan.  Another we are working on is a police department.  Another issue that we are looking at is housing, trying to figure out  how are we going to get a developer or builder in here and seeing the same things we are seeing and maybe want to invest in the town of Medicine Bow.

BECK: George remains worried that the state will hesitate in providing impact money to the town because he says Medicine Bow has no way to pay for a lot of what’s needed.  He also is expecting the companies to step up.  So does George have mixed emotions?

GEORGE:  Laughs, You know I try not to let that show, but you have to guard yourself.

BECK:  But he’s hoping for the best.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.