Hoback Junction

Hoback Junction has been ground zero for drinking water pollution issues in Jackson Hole, and dangerous levels of nitrates have been found in several Hoback areas. Water quality issues like those in Hoback have become a central point in the ongoing process of updating the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan. A number of County Commission candidates identified water quality as a top conservation priority in Jackson Hole.

There are five candidates running for two seats on the County Commission. Read more about them and their positions here. You can vote for two candidates. Early voting is open now. — Billy Arnold

Christian Beckwith

Christian Beckwith

CHRISTIAN BECKWITH

Party: Republican

Job: Executive Director, SHIFT Festival

Years in Teton County: 27

Age: 52

Lives in: Jackson

As a climber, writer and founder of Alpinist magazine, Christian Beckwith said he is running for County Commission to protect the environment and, specifically, “defend the opening words” of the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.

Those words center the environment as the underpinning of life in Jackson Hole: to “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”

“The ecosystem is the engine of our economy,” said Beckwith, the executive director of SHIFT, the nonprofit behind the SHIFT festival. “It’s the underpinning of our quality of life and the quality of experience we provide to our visitors. Our community can only be as healthy as the environment in which we exist.”

Beckwith said his experiences at Alpinist and SHIFT and his work in conservation, land management, outdoor recreation and the public sphere have given him experience in coalition building, project management, budgeting, organizational strategy and managing teams. Both experiences have also helped him zero in on the environment.

Alpinist, he said, led him to “believe outdoor recreation can and should result in the stewardship of our lands and waters.” SHIFT, he said, persuaded him to adopt a “Place First” approach: “prioritizing the needs of our ecosystem before those of special interest groups.”

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Teton County

  1. Commercial growth
  2. Affordable/workforce housing
  3. Traffic

What does this miss? Clean drinking water. The health risks and costs associated with nitrate contamination to our aquifer must be a top priority. No more Hobacks.

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

  1. Government
  2. Employers
  3. Private developers

Explanation: Employers, developers and government must work collaboratively to address the problem.

Priorities for planning northern South Park

  • Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife.
  • Creating tools for affordable and workforce housing.
  • Addressing transportation and infrastructure issues.

Seventh penny tax: Support — To provide core services in the midst of the economic downturn.

Highway 22 expansion: Oppose — Use smart traffic lights and roundabouts first.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our housing shortage for local workers?

An ecosystem’s health depends on its diversity. A single-species ecosystem is not resilient. I’m concerned that our community’s ecosystem is becoming less resilient as we increasingly become a habitat for the wealthy at the expense of our teachers, police and nurses.

I’ll prioritize homes for locals that are permanently affordable, focus more on affordable rental properties, bring back affordable housing tools that have been eliminated over the past decade and support the Housing Department’s recommendations for financial tools.

But we also need to stop building hotels that create more jobs without also creating more housing. That’s why I’ve called for a moratorium on the development of new hotels until we can get closer to our goal of housing 65% of our workforce.

What role should local government play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Local government should provide relief to workers and businesses that have been hurt. That’s one reason I support the seventh penny — 55% of which is paid for by visitors — in order to provide and protect the safety net, human services and conservation priorities of our community.

Our local government should also protect the health and well-being of our citizens. Decisions about public health should be made by our public health officer, Dr. Travis Riddell, based on recommendations by the health board. If I had been on the Board of County Commissioners, I would have acted more decisively and quickly to support Dr. Ridell’s recommendations for a county mask ordinance, but I respect that decisions about public health should originate from his office and should be supported by local government.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Defending the opening words of the Comp Plan: to “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.”

Our ecosystem is our everything. Protecting it not only helps preserve our quality of life, our social cohesion and our economy; it also serves as an example to the rest of the world of the ways we can maintain the delicate balance between the built and natural environments.

Greg Epstein

Greg Epstein

GREG EPSTEIN

Party: Democrat

Job: Owner, Jackson Hole Fly Company; County Commissioner

Years in Teton County: 49

Age: 49

Lives in: Melody Ranch

Democrat Greg Epstein said he’s running to keep his seat on the County Commission, where he serves as the vice chair, to bring “experienced leadership” in an uncertain time.

Epstein initially said he was not going to run for re-election, concerned about balancing the demands of being a new father, with running a business and serving on the commission. That changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he decided to reenter the race.

“During uncertain periods like this past year, continuity of experienced leadership is paramount,” Epstein said.

Epstein owns the Jackson Hole Fly Company and said that job has prepared him to be a county commissioner because he understands “how much things cost, the struggles of starting and keeping a business running, strategic planning, marketing, budgeting and the dynamics of retaining good employees.” He said he also “understands the nature of our local economy.

“When times are good I know where to spend money,” he said, “and when times are tough I know where to cut.”

In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Epstein said, “I truly believe our community will come together, prevail and be stronger on the other side of this health and economic scare, but it is going to require a collaborative effort, critical thinking and tough decision-making.”

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Teton County

  1. Affordable/workforce housing
  2. Traffic
  3. Funding social services

What does this miss? “Water Quality, if we do the top three priorities right our community’s carbon emissions should be reduced.”

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

  1. Private developers
  2. Government
  3. Employers

Explanation: “The public sector, the private developers and employers should all be participating in the creating affordable/workforce housing.”

Priorities for planning northern South Park

  • Creating tools for affordable and workforce housing.
  • Addressing transportation and infrastructure issues.
  • Creating a base zone with deed restricted density incentives for land owners and developers

Seventh penny tax: Support

Highway 22 expansion: Support — If Wyoming legislation allows for HOV or bus lanes.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our housing shortage for local workers?

I have been in favor of affordable and workforce housing projects that have been sited in the right location, properly funded and meet the needs of our working population. We have some incredible opportunities to take a larger bite out of the housing deficit we face. Northern South Park is one of those prospects, and I plan to keep it at the top of my priority list. The County Commission has set a timeline for the northern South Park neighborhood planning process to start in November and end in July. Aside from housing, in this public process, issues like waste-water/water quality, transportation, child care, energy efficiency and open space will be contemplated to inform the best possible outcome for our valley. My hope is that through this expedited plan we get a county zoning overlay, zoning tools, and density incentives for developers that allow for neighborhood amenities and an assortment of affordable housing products for our workforce to be built in a less onerous manner.

What role should local government play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Locally, the government is playing a role in the response to COVID-19. The Town Council created a mask ordinance in Jackson, and the state of Wyoming created a mask order for the unincorporated parts of Teton County. Additionally, the county health officer and the Teton County Health Department have been at the forefront of the crisis since April. If you are asking whether government should be involved in this at all, I would have liked to have seen more top-down leadership and direction from our federal government directed at states, counties and municipalities. That would have created a more uniform approach to the situation countrywide.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

In my opinion the most important conservation issue currently facing Teton County is water quality. Clean water is life and should be a right, not a privilege, for all of our citizens. Additionally, water quality is the best metric to gauge the overall health of our community and surrounding ecosystem. Secondly, we need to continue focusing on wildlife and vehicle interactions on our highways. Wildlife crossings are already funded, but we need to work with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to come up with some interim solutions while these projects are planned and constructed.

Wes Gardner

Wes Gardner

WES GARDNER

Party: Independent

Job: Owner, Teton Toys

Years in Teton County: 23

Age: 42

Lives in: Game Creek

Independent Wes Gardner said he’s running for County Commission because he’s seen some of Teton County’s most pressing issues “continue to get worse.”

“I am running for Teton County commissioner because I believe that I can make them better,” he said.

Gardner opened Teton Toys here in 2010 and a second store in Lehi, Utah, in 2015. He ran for County Commission in 2018 and said that as he’s become “more and more engaged” — he’s a board member for START and Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling — he’s become “frustrated with our local governments.

“While our elected leaders share good intentions ... I wonder why we are often slow to manage any number of critical issues,” Gardner said. “There are practical steps we can take ... to reduce our traffic, our affordable housing shortage and our water quality issues.”

Gardner said being a business owner has taught him to manage funds, “when to accept risk and when to avoid it,” and to trust his staff while holding them accountable. He also said he’s learned “listening to my customers is the path to success.” But Gardner said the skill that will serve him best as a commissioner is his ability to “make difficult decisions in critical moments.”

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Teton County

  1. Climate change
  2. Affordable/workforce housing
  3. Traffic

What does this miss? Some households in our community cannot safely drink their tap water. This is a top issue for me.

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

  1. Government
  2. Employers
  3. Private developers

Priorities for planning northern South Park

  • Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife.
  • Creating tools for affordable and workforce housing.
  • Addressing transportation and infrastructure issues.

Seventh penny tax: Support — It's only $10 for $1000 spent, and mostly supported by visitors. Generates millions for local gov't.

Highway 22 expansion: Support — Only if new lanes are restricted to HOVs and buses.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our housing shortage for local workers?

Only 3% of the land in Teton County is privately owned, and about half of that is under conservation easements. That leaves us very little opportunity to resolve our ever-growing housing shortage using land in the county.

While I agree with the basic premise that we should seek development in and around town, I would have voted in favor of pursuing the opportunity to develop about 80 housing units at Munger Mountain, especially if we were able to negotiate assurances of permanent affordability on some lots.

I support the development of a comprehensive neighborhood vision for northern South Park, including assurances of permanent affordability and deed restrictions in exchange for density bonuses. This plan should also include infrastructure needs and wildlife thoroughfares.

What role should local government play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

When Teton Toys reopened in mid-May, I decided to require masks at my business. According to my research, COVID is transmitted (at least partly) by airborne droplets, and when folks wear masks there is an estimated 80% reduction in the transmission rate of airborne droplets.

Like many business owners I decided to require masks long before either the town or county government. Those of us on the front lines of public engagement felt it necessary to protect ourselves, our staffs, our customers and everyone these people came in contact with. I was appalled by the slowness of reaction from our County Commission, which only signed a mask order on July 20, months into the busiest summer on record.

We must act with humility in the face of such a novel and dangerous threat to public health. I wear a mask for hours every day. It’s not a big deal, given the consequences.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Water quality in parts of Teton County has crossed the threshold where it is no longer safe to drink. Year after year, we send more of our trash to the dump in Idaho. Our precious wildlife is under constant attack from our vehicles and development.

While these are all critical, the most important conservation issue facing Teton County is our increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly all scientists agree that climate change is real and that we are running desperately low on time to change the planet’s trajectory.

With over 80% of Teton County’s greenhouse emissions coming from ground transportation, in order to reduce our impact, we must focus on creating more efficient and effective road and transit networks. This is my top priority today and will remain so if elected.

Peter Long Mug

Peter Long

PETER LONG

Party: Republican

Job: Owner, Longshot Strategies

Years in Teton County: 22

Age: 36

Lives in: Jackson

Republican Peter Long said he is running for County Commission “to be a voice for our working class, to stand up for our small-business and workers and to make Teton County a place that our children can one day call home.”

Long, a Moran native, left the valley for college and started his career in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Bush and Obama administrations and later served as an executive assistant to former Vice President Dick Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute.

He returned to the valley in 2016 and started his own marketing and public relations company, Longshot Strategies, in 2018, an experience he said has given him the “opportunity to work with many of our local small businesses.”

As a commissioner, Long said, he would “promise to put good ideas ahead of political ideology.”

“I will lead with common sense and common vision,” he said. “That means making our local government work for you — not the other way around.”

Long has pledged to serve only one term if elected, arguing that four years is enough time to “to implement good policies and make a real impact on the issues facing our community and then step aside for others to come forward with new ideas and vision.”

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Teton County

  1. Affordable/workforce housing
  2. Healthcare
  3. Childcare

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

  1. Private developers
  2. Employers
  3. Government

Explanation: Our government must be part of the housing solution, but it can't go it alone.

Priorities for planning northern South Park

  • Creating tools for affordable and workforce housing.
  • Addressing transportation and infrastructure issues.
  • Moving the planning process forward quickly.

Seventh penny tax: Oppose — There are no controls for how the seventh penny would be used.

Highway 22 expansion: Support — HOV/bus lanes will alleviate traffic, reduce cars.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our housing shortage for local workers?

Housing is the critical piece to ensure that hardworking men, women and families have a place in Teton County. As your commissioner I will fight to zone more working-class neighborhoods that create affordable housing and rental options.

Our local government must be part of the housing solution, but it should not go it alone. The county has an opportunity to strengthen partnerships with the private sector and work with landowners, builders and stakeholders from across our community to get projects past the finish line.

Density trade-offs are a great tool to bring down costs and ensure affordability. We should also embrace creative solutions, like incentives for ARUs rented to local workers, that create win-win outcomes.

What role should local government play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our community deserves credit for the urgency and seriousness with which it responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our local government’s first and foremost obligation is to ensure the public’s health and safety. It is also the duty of our elected leaders to balance the social and economic health of our community.

Local government also has the responsibility to communicate health orders in plain and simple terms. Often business owners, workers and everyday individuals have had to navigate pages of legalese to understand what impact the rules will have on them. Our government should work with the media and with community stakeholders (including and especially minority populations) to clearly explain health orders and what they mean for those affected.

Finally, it’s critical that we continue to support social services, which meet the needs of our most vulnerable.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Water quality. The health of our ecosystem relies on a single source aquifer. In recent years the impact of insufficient wastewater management has come to light in our own backyard. Well water that is not safe to drink in Hoback and E. coli levels in Fish Creek and Flat Creek that exceed federal regulatory levels exemplify how real and immediate this problem is.

Working with the private sector — dedicated organizations like Protect Our Waters Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Clean Water Coalition — our local governments must devote our full resources to correcting the problem.

I support a comprehensive water quality plan to not only address our immediate challenges, but to create policies and procedures that will get ahead of the problem for future generations.

Natalia D. Macker Mug

Natalia D. Macker

NATALIA D. MACKER

Party: Democrat

Job: Artistic director, Off Square Theatre Company; County Commissioner

Years in Teton County: 9

Age: 36

Lives in: Rafter J

Democrat Natalia D. Macker said she’s running to keep her seat on the County Commission, where she serves as chair, to “strive for the equitable world all of our children deserve.”

As she put it, that’s a world “where opportunity isn’t dependent on the color of your skin. Where women receive equal pay for equal work. Where parents don’t have to choose between safely caring for their children or paying rent or seeking health care.”

Macker said that she’s “committed to professional development and service.” Among other positions, she’s the chair of the Health, Safety and Social Services Committee for the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and was the first woman to win the association’s Riding for the Brand Award, a statewide award recognizing the contributions of a Wyoming county commissioner.

Macker said her experience as a “producer, performer and nonprofit leader” has refined her “skills in collaboration, project management, fiscal oversight and communication while enhancing my fluency in empathic leadership and teaching me how to find common ground.”

Finding solutions to the challenges she seeks to address, she said, won’t be easy.

“But we cannot hold our breath and wait for our world to ‘get back to normal,’” she said. “As the pandemic has shown us, ‘normal’ wasn’t working for most of us.”

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Teton County

  1. Affordable/workforce housing
  2. Climate change
  3. Funding social services

What does this miss? Income inequality is the top issue facing our community. It affects every single item on the list. Also, child care is a key component of our economy.

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

  • Private developers
  • Employers
  • Government

Explanation: Some of our best successes have come from partnerships. We need the resources of all three.

Priorities for planning northern South Park

  • Creating tools for affordable and workforce housing.
  • Addressing transportation and infrastructure issues.
  • Evaluating the possibility for daycares and schools in the area.

Seventh penny tax: Support — It can generate revenue from our visitors to offset impacts and provide key community services.

Highway 22 expansion: Support — It needs improvements for safety and functionality.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our housing shortage for local workers?

I am committed to continuing our public-private partnerships to get housing built, zoning for affordable housing and creating funds to support rental deposits or purchase deed restrictions.

What role should local government play in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Local government must play a vital role in the ongoing response. This response includes not only the public health function, but also emergency management support functions, as a convener of community resources, and the deployment or reallocation of existing community assets (e.g. providing showers at the Rec Center). Local government plays a key role in securing the resources we need from the state and federal level to respond to our specific local needs. Local government also plays a key role in focusing on marginalized populations or populations that could become marginalized. This is an area we need to continue to watch as we settle into our new routines as a community. The cross-sector collaboration that has occurred since the onset of the pandemic is something we should all be proud of. Our entire community has shown up to help each other. We are no doubt stronger because of this. I look forward to leveraging this strengthened network to tackle other community challenges.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Environmental stewardship requires recognition of the interconnected nature of our ecosystem, meaning we have to consider the whole as we work on individual components. Areas currently identified as requiring attention are water quality, natural resource protections within land use, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One of our greatest strengths is the expertise we have in the conservation and environmental justice field, but social inequities are an impediment. Ensuring that our underserved families have access to safe working and living conditions, clean water, healthy food and affordable health care will mean they have more time and ability to recreate and engage in community conservation efforts. Caring for our vulnerable neighbors is part of generating ecosystem health.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

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