At the request of attorney Jason Tangeman, Albany County District Court Judge Tori Kricken has been removed from a case brought by Albany County commissioners against Tumbleweed Express, a gas station on the east side of Laramie that Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent has alleged is a threat to the Casper Aquifer.
Court documents in the case do not state Tangeman’s specific objection to Kricken handling the case, but the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure only allows an attorney to “peremptorily disqualify” a judge “on the ground that the presiding judge has been engaged as counsel in the action prior to being appointed as judge, is interested in the action, is related by consanguinity to a party, is a material witness in the action or is biased or prejudiced against the party or the party’s counsel.”
Tangeman is currently involved in an appeal of a major December ruling that Kricken made in a case involving the University of Wyoming’s right to regulate gun possession on campus.
In his appellate arguments in that case, Tangeman said Kricken’s interpretation of a 2010 laws was based on “rank speculation and not supported by citation to any cogent authority.”
Dawnessa Snyder, who serves as Wyoming’s District Court Judge in Rawlins, is now set to handle the Tumbleweed Express case. A three-hour hearing on Trent’s request for an injunction against Tumbleweed Express is scheduled for May 28.
Martin Greller, president of Albany County Clean Water Advocates, has praised Trent and the county commissioners for taking action against the gas station.
Tumbleweed Express’ project “demonstrates yet again that protection of our drinking water supplies requires constant attention,” Greller said in a Sunday letter to the editor. “The words of the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan do not mean anything unless they are enforced.”
Throughout April, the gas station’s owners and county officials have clashed over whether fuel sales and recent construction work is illegal.
The gas station lies within the the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone, which was created by county commissioners in 2003. Gas stations and fuel pipelines are banned within the zone, but Tumbleweed Express was grandfathered in.
However, the county’s zoning resolution also states that right to the grandfathered use should end if “active and continuous operations of a non-conforming use is discontinued for a period of twenty-four consecutive months.”
County officials had assumed Tumbleweed Express’s pumps had not been in operation for the last decade.
According to Trent’s 17-page injunction request, Tumbleweed Express’s state licensure for “weights and measures of weighing devices of the above-ground fuel pumps or devices used fore dispensing Liquefied Petroleum Gases” expired in 2009 before being renewed in 2018 after new owners Amandeep Pandher and Manjot Singh purchased the property.
On April 3, Albany County Planning Director David Gertsch sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tumbleweed Express.
It wasn’t until the next day that Gertsch requested the Department of Environmental Quality’s inspection report from the state agency. That inspection report for Tumbleweed Express’s underground storage tanks states Tumbleweed Express is a “licensed operator” and an annual inspection in August from the Storage Tank Program deemed there were “no violations” related to the underground fuel tank.
It wasn’t until after Trent filed for an injunction that the county requested more detailed information from the DEQ about the Tumbleweed Express’s operations.
Those documents provided to the county show that Tumbleweed Express has maintained a tank and line tester’s license, a Class A operator’s license and an underground storage tank installer’s license.
The county’s Casper Aquifer Protection Plan, adopted in 2011, cites Tumbleweed Express’s underground storage tanks as one of the top seven risks for contaminating the aquifer.
Albany County alleges Tumbleweed Express’s current construction is “in a potentially sensitive aquifer recharge area that is up-gradient to both the city’s Turner municipal wellfield and to private domestic wells in the county and is creating a potential risk to the public health and safety of citizens and defendants.”
The aquifer protection plan states there’s maybe less than 30 feet of Satanka Shale overlying the Casper Formation at the gas station, which lies at the corner of Grand Avenue and Bluebird Lane.
If Tumbleweed Express still has grandfathered rights to sell gasoline, it could still have the right to expand its “nonconforming use” if it were to complete a site-specific investigation that shows “no increased risk to the aquifer” and the construction were to include technology that would mitigate any risks.
However, any changes of use require a zoning certificate from the county.
Repairs to a “nonconforming use” in the aquifer protection zone are allowed if “after the repairs are complete, the best available control technology is in place to prevent hazardous materials from entering the Casper Aquifer.”