The biggest project Wyoming has ever seen

By: 
Bill Sniffin

The announcement that Wyoming would be seeing a $5 Billion investment in the FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne got me wondering:

Is this the largest financial investment of any single project in the history of Wyoming?

The number “five billion” takes my breath away. Not sure what the total value of all the homes are in the state — or all the oil or all the coal — but billions would measure that.

But it is always hard to compare military hardware with ordinary items.

Some 40 years ago, we had a newspaper cartoonist who drew a cartoon showing a map of the United States with a bulls-eye located in Cheyenne. This gave us an idea of where the Soviet Union was aiming its missiles. It was assumed they wanted to cripple the ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missile) headquarters at the start of a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. The message of that cartoon was that the rest of Wyomingites would bear a big brunt of that onslaught. 

Today, all those silos and those 400 missiles need a serious upgrade. The current facilities are decades old, and one news story claimed the crews still use floppy disks on ancient computers. 

Yes it is time to re-boot, and it looks like the number it will take involves ten digits at $5,000,000,000.

Some time ago ExxonMobil spent $1 billion on the Shute Creek plant northeast of Kemmerer.  Supposedly it was built on a creek of a similar name – the creek name described the location a person would go when being in dire circumstances – but wiser heads suggested changing it to Shute Creek!

What would our Interstate Highway System cost today? Might be $5 billion based on recent contracts showing what it costs to re-build a mile of Interstate highway. 

The Buffalo Bill dam west of Cody was the biggest dam in the world when it was built in 1912. It was also the tallest and probably the most expensive. Would it be $5 Billion in today’s dollars?

What about the entire campus for the University of Wyoming? Would it cost $5 billion if you started from scratch?

Some of our coal-fired power plants might have cost of a billion dollars in today’s money. Also those huge windmill farms plus the transmission lines are being mentioned as billion-dollar projects. 

Rob Black of Cheyenne reminded me that I missed probably the biggest project in our state’s history and the project that literally defined Wyoming. He writes:

“How about the Union Pacific Railroad? Although only a portion crossed Wyoming, Congress in 1862 paid $32,000 per mile to the two companies building it, and the total length was 1,776 miles. Total cost would have been $56,832,000. 

“One online source just rounded it to $50 million. Based on an inflation calculator I found, that would be equivalent to $1.43 billion in today’s dollars. Not quite $5 billion. And Wyoming’s portion would be even smaller. If Wyoming is about 400 miles wide, then 400 divided by 1,776 = 22.5 percent. And 22.5 percent of $1.43 billion is a paltry $322 million.

“Still, if you built the same railroad today, I’ll bet labor and materials would cost a lot more, plus environmental impact statements, taxes, lawyers, much higher overhead, etc. etc., maybe it would be close to $5 Billion in Wyoming alone.”

One of Tucker Fagan’s many careers was instructing President Ronald Reagan on the codes for the ICBM missile launchings. He knows this subject. 

But Cheyenne being the biggest missile target in the world? He begs to differ: 

“You are correct that a very large amount of defense money is headed to replace the Minuteman ICBM system. As for Cheyenne being a bulls-eye, my guess it is not. Both sides now are limited to 1,550 warheads. When you look at the vast target structure facing the Russians, a weapon focused on FE Warren is not likely because the message from the President to the missiles crews goes directly to the missile capsules.

“Northrup Grumman and Boeing are honing their solutions to win the contract. I expect a lot of people moving to the southeast corner of the state, and whichever company wins the contract will buy lots of material and supplies for the project.”

For some perspective, that $5 Billion earmarked for Cheyenne is a tiny fraction of the $140 Billion planned by the military for an upgrade of all our ICBM facilities all over the world.

So I guess we are glad Wyoming is getting its piece of this huge pie. And yes, that cartoon showing Cheyenne as the bulls-eye is still very much applicable.

But as Tucker explains, it would not be the only bull’s-eye in this modern world.  

Some consolation, I guess.

 

Bill Sniffin is a retired newspaper publisher who has penned a number of books about Wyoming. He appeared for author’s receptions at both the Weston County Library and News Letter Journal in December. Check out additional columns written by Bill at www.billsniffin.com. and find volumes from his coffee table book series, which have sold over 30,000 copies, for sale at the News Letter Journal.

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