This week, residents of the greater Teton area will be able to ask some key players in the proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort questions about the process, and the resort’s plans.
From 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, The Teton County, Idaho, Board of County Commissioners will host a mostly-virtual forum about the proposed expansion for the ski hill on the west side of the Tetons. The Zoom link is 845 8646 1493, and there will be limited seating at the Teton County, Idaho, courthouse for those without internet access. All presentations will be given over Zoom.
Commissioner Cindy Riegel confirmed that Targhee owner Geordie Gillett will attend the forum, as will representatives from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, on which Targhee operates, and two planners from Teton County: Planning and Building Director Chris Neubecker and Principal Planner Hamilton Smith.
Rob Marin, Teton County, Idaho’s GIS specialist and special projects coordinator, will also speak.
Each group of presenters will have about 15 minutes to talk, and then organizers will open the floor to a moderated, public Q&A.
The goal isn’t to deluge officials with public comment about the resort’s controversial plans, Riegel said. Rather, she sees it as an “educational event.”
“It’s kind of phase one,” Riegel said. “We aren’t taking public comments. We are taking questions from the public though.”
“There will be other opportunities to comment, but this is not it,” she added. “This is the time to get your questions answered and understand the proposal.”
Caribou Targhee District Ranger Jay Pence, however, said that the Forest Service may not have a panacea of answers. In his mind, the best place for the public to get involved is when the forest releases the draft environmental impact statement, which will contain a handful of alternatives — essentially possibilities for Targhee’s future that the public can comment on.
The environmental impact statement, Pence said, was supposed to be released in January.
But due to the complexity of the project, it is now delayed and slated to be released in late spring or early summer.
And, without that document, he said Caribou-Targhee officials can’t answer a lot of specific questions, like how the expansion will impact bighorn sheep in the Tetons.
“It’s going to be an awkward meeting, to be honest with you, because we’re not going to be able to provide specifics,” Pence said.
He added that Caribou-Targhee staff will be able to talk timelines and process, but not much else.
“If somebody asks a specific question, they’re going to have to wait for the EIS because that’s going to contain the answer to your question,” Pence said.
Responding to what he referred to as “rumors or fear” that the forest service isn’t taking public comment, Pence said that’s not the case.
People “need to be prepared for when the draft document comes out,” he said. “They need to analyze that and provide feedback on that document.”
Teton County, Idaho, commissioners have talked for some time about hosting a few meetings about the proposed expansion, which some worry would exacerbate housing, traffic and other congestion issues on the Idaho side of Teton Pass. This meeting is the first that Idaho commissioners are planning.
In the future, Riegel said commissioners plan to host a “listening session,” where people will be able to provide public comment to the Teton County, Idaho, commissioners.
That future feedback will in turn inform the Idaho officials’ formal comments on Targhee’s proposal, Riegel said. Those comments will be made when the draft EIS is released.
The Wednesday meeting is intended to begin informing people of what’s going on as they follow the process.
The Idaho commissioner said the goal of having the range of officials in the room is to help people understand what’s proposed on Targhee’s slopes — which are administered by the Caribou-Targhee — as well as the possibility of expansion in the base area, which is on private land administered by Teton County.
County commissioners on this side of Teton Pass regulate planning, zoning and development that occurs at the ski area’s 120-acre base area. And, in 2018, those elected officials renewed decade-old entitlements that would allow the ski area to add 354 new lodging units and 150,000 square feet of commercial development to the private inholding.
The Forest Service, meanwhile, administers the hill’s 2,517 acres of skiing access, and is in the process of analyzing Targhee’s proposal for on-slope restaurants, several new lifts and a significant increase in its permit area.
Riegel also hopes people leave the meeting with a better understanding of Teton County, Idaho’s role in preparing the draft environmental impact statement, as well as the socioeconomic study that Teton County, Idaho and Wyoming are both funding to grasp how the expansion will impact communities on the western slope.