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    Wheatland farmer promises to protect rural interests in his run for Senate District 6

    By Hannah Shields Wyoming Tribune Eagle,

    2024-06-05

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4a7r4z_0th83eZs00

    CHEYENNE — Rural farmers and ranchers in Platte County found themselves represented by a new senator from Cheyenne after Senate District 6 boundary lines were redrawn in 2022.

    Former Platter County Commissioner Eric Johnston said he didn’t think a city lawmaker would fully understand rural community interests, which is why he decided to run in this year’s election.

    “There’s a lot of country in this district,” Johnston told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “I think I can better represent the people in this (area) than a Cheyenne person.”

    Agriculture is a multi-faceted issue, Johnston said, but water supply is the biggest challenge faced by farmers and ranchers. The pressure of data centers, expanding acreage and ranchettes in eastern Laramie County is straining water usage in the area, he said.

    “The challenge is we’re drilling more wells into an aquifer,” Johnston said. “If we get too many wells in the aquifer, it’ll end up like the panhandle in Texas.”

    Texas is irrigating with groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer, he said, and levels in that aquifer are falling. To prevent a similar crisis from happening in Wyoming, Johnston suggested further regulation of water permits.

    “As a senator, I would get in with the State Engineer’s Office and figure out what’s happening,” Johnston said.

    Protecting Wyoming industries

    Johnston said he believes in protecting the Cowboy State’s legacy industries, including trona, uranium, coal, oil and natural gas. As energy technologies continue to emerge, Johnston noted in his campaign news release that “hydrogen, nuclear and rare earth elements are becoming increasingly important.”

    The Laramie River Power Station is located just outside of Wheatland, he said, and generates a lot of electrons for residents in the area, which flow all the way down to Missouri.

    Wyoming is also well-known for its powerful wind gusts, and wind turbines stretch across parts of Laramie County to capture the use of this renewable energy. The problem with wind and solar energy, Johnston said, is the fact it’s not as easy to ramp up as coal- and natural gas-powered electricity.

    “Eliminating coal for the basic grid is ridiculous,” Johnston said. “I just cannot get my head around that. We need coal as the backbone of the grid.”

    Navigating property tax relief

    Johnston said the Wyoming Legislature “made a valiant effort” to address property tax relief during the 2024 budget session. His concern, however, is the potential reduction in revenue for local municipalities to fund their schools and infrastructure.

    “The challenge is balancing the property tax revenue decreases with the services we expect,” Johnston said.

    Albin is a small town of roughly 160 people, located near the Nebraska border. Being so far from a medical center, the town has its own ambulance that is privately funded, and Johnston worried services such as this could be cut due to lower property taxes.

    “If we’re cutting our property tax, something might fall off the list of services provided,” Johnston said. “And I don’t want one of those things that fall off the list to be no one answering your 911 call.”

    As state legislators continue to navigate this complex issue, Johnston said it’s important to keep in mind how the state will support smaller communities that heavily rely on property tax revenue.

    Getting results

    Johnston served one term as a commissioner for Platte County before he stepped down. He said he decided not to run when “a real good young man expressed interest” in running for the position.

    “We can use some younger representation,” Johnston said. “He’s done a fine job, and I’m very happy with his service.”

    Looking back over his own time as a county commissioner, Johnston said he was proud of the work he’d done. He helped secure $3 million to fix Guernsey’s water system and found funding to renovate a 100-year-old courthouse in Wheatland.

    “I delivered results,” Johnston said.

    When a fire broke out at Camp Guernsey, he worked with the colonel to develop a better relationship with local fire districts so future incidents are avoided.

    “I’m now moving up a level in government from county to state. Do I know everything? No, I do not,” Johnston said. “But I guarantee the voters of Senate District 6 I will do my homework. And if I don’t know, I’ll find somebody who does.”

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