Video game effort could help regulate future drone traffic
SALT LAKE CITY — Drones ferrying medical supplies, packages and even pizza could one day be crisscrossing the skies above U.S. cities, and a team at the University of Utah is working with regulators to keep that future traffic in check using a video game.
The simulation uses a 3-D model of Salt Lake City, similar to games like Sim City, and data about planned drone paths to determine potential problem areas.
Mikaila Young, a producer on the game and graduate student at the Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, and her team are developing the game for the Utah Department of Transportation, which is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to prepare for the widespread use of commercial drones in the coming years.
For now, U.S. law requires most drones to fly within the line of sight of an operator and away from crowds. But companies and groups are already testing drone deliveries in a number of U.S. locations.
The U.S. government recently estimated that about 110,000 commercial drones were operating in the U.S., and that number is expected to grow to about 450,000 in 2022.
There's the question of how to develop laws that protect safety and privacy when drones are flying over people. And there are still technical hurdles to overcome in building drones that can carry larger packages long distances without being too noisy.
Third-biggest U.S. coal company files for bankruptcy
GILLETTE — The nation's third-largest coal company by production volume has filed for bankruptcy as utility companies increasingly turn to gas-fired generation and renewable energy for electricity.
Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The move was widely expected since at least March, when the company received the first of several extensions to make a $1.8 million loan payment. The latest extension expired the same day the company filed for bankruptcy.
Cloud Peak owns and operates three mines in the Powder River Basin: the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek Mine in Montana.
The mines shipped 50 million tons of coal in 2018. They will remain in operation during the bankruptcy process with help from $35 million in debtor-in-possession financing, according to the company.
Cloud Peak is the fourth major coal producer in Wyoming, the top coal-mining state, to file for bankruptcy in recent years.
Inexpensive and cleaner-burning natural gas, and increasingly inexpensive wind and solar power, have become attractive alternatives to coal power in the U.S.
None of the Powder River Basin's huge, open-pit coal mines has had to close. But the outlook for thermal coal, the type used to fire power plants, has been bleak.
Governor OKs bills investing $400M in infrastructure
HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a series of bills that allow for spending nearly $400 million on buildings, bridges and water systems across the state — an effort aimed at creating jobs, boosting the state's economy and clearing up a backlog of needed work.
The bills include money to repair or replace 14 bridges and 51 water, wastewater and sewer projects. Overall, the 2019 Legislature passed $2.7 billion in infrastructure projects, including highway projects.
One of the measures was the result of a bipartisan effort to set guidelines to determine how much money the state can afford to borrow and spend on building construction and maintenance, based on state revenues and existing debt.
Those guidelines helped clear the way for legislation to sell about $80 million in bonds for infrastructure projects including $25 million for long-sought renovations to Romney Hall at Montana State University. It also funds a dental hygiene lab at Great Falls College and pays for backlogged maintenance at state buildings, including $2 million for the state Capitol complex.
Bullock, a Democrat, also signed a bill to increase the state lodging tax by 1 percentage point to raise $34 million for a new Montana Historical Society museum.
Governor, Albuquerque mayor to assist asylum seekers
SANTA FE — Dormitories at a state exposition center in Albuquerque are being offered to asylum-seeking immigrants in search of temporary shelter, officials announced.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, issued a statement that beds and kitchen space on the grounds of the annual state fair will be available to immigrants.
Thousands of Central American migrants have been dropped off in New Mexico by U.S. Border Patrol in recent weeks as asylum seekers overwhelm shelters near ports of entry in West Texas.
Separately, Border Patrol agents reported the apprehension of more than 650 migrants in two groups at the New Mexico border with Mexico.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Claudia Tristan said immigrants are expected to stay at state facilities in Albuquerque for 24 to 72 hours before leaving to reach relatives or other sponsors throughout the U.S. The facility is located in one of the most racially and ethnically diverse areas of Albuquerque.
An Expo spokeswoman said the effort is geared toward asylum-seeking families and that the facilities could eventually accommodate 240 people.
Typically, beds at the fairgrounds are used in late summer for visiting contestants in competitions from the 4-H and Future Farmers of America, Gonzales said.
Backers seek funds for Roosevelt presidential library
BISMARCK — A Walmart heir, a wealthy governor and energy companies profiting from North Dakota oil could fund a big chunk of the private money needed by developers of a presidential library for Theodore Roosevelt in the western Badlands where he hunted and ranched before becoming the 26th U.S. president.
Legislators in April approved $50 million to operate the library, but that must be matched by $100 million in private money to build it and fund an ongoing project at Dickinson State University to digitize tens of thousands of Roosevelt's papers.
Roosevelt spent four years on a ranch in the North Dakota Badlands while in his 20s. The area of rugged hills, ridges, buttes and bluffs is now a national park and the state's top tourist attraction. An effort to build a presidential library in his native New York failed — and North Dakota leaders saw an opportunity.
The library foundation has $52 million in private pledges. The source hasn't been publicly disclosed, but all indications are that most of it is coming from former Walmart Inc. Chairman Rob Walton and his wife, Melani, a Dickinson State graduate and library foundation board member.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council, a trade group representing about 500 energy companies, backs the project. President Ron Ness said both the council and individual oil and gas companies are likely to contribute "substantial support."
Gov. Doug Burgum, who sold a software company to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion and later worked as a Microsoft executive, will also contribute, his spokesman said.