Rick Stewart wants to be on the airport board.
Though he said he doesn’t live in Teton County, the president of an Alabama-based mechanical lubrication company owns a few properties in Jackson Hole: A home in the Bar B Bar neighborhood south of the airport and seven cabins back in the Nowlin subdivision on the National Elk Refuge. And Stewart is no stranger to flying. He said he owns six airplanes, three of which he flies to Jackson regularly. He’s flown one of those planes — the first corporate jet he purchased — around the world the equivalent of 345 times.
“You know what they call that in Alabama?” Stewart said. “They call that hauling a--.”
At some neighbors’ urging, Stewart applied to fill longtime Jackson Hole Airport Board member Jerry Blann’s soon-to-be-vacant seat on the board. He hopes to use his experience in aviation and business to “preserve and protect the aviation that serves the city of Jackson, Teton County and that end of Wyoming.”
But the Alabama businessman is not the only one applying for a seat on the board. The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners, which oversee the airport board by way of appointment and budget, have interviewed roughly a dozen people interested in the volunteer position. Several well-known locals have applied for the post.
Chief among them: Paul Beaupre, a former St. John’s Health CEO and the hospital’s current COVID-19 czar; Mary Kate Buckley, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s president; and Rob Wallace, a former U.S. Department of Interior assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, overseeing the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last Tuesday, town and county elected officials appointed a handful of people to volunteer boards dealing with pathways, parks and recreation, public transportation and affordable housing.
But they did not make an appointment to the airport board.
Why is uncertain.
As permitted by state law, the town council and county commission deliberated about the board appointments in executive session, a meeting that is closed to the public.
“I can’t comment on discussion of executive session other than to say the boards have not yet selected an appointee for the airport board,” Commission Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker told the Jackson Hole Daily.
Buckley and Wallace did not respond to requests for comment before press time. But Beaupre did. Ditto a few other people applying: Stewart and Ken Small, a retired U.S. Air Force Major who spent 30 years working on airport facilities and lives just south of the airport.
“The nut is I really know a great deal about airports and construction of airports,” Small said.
Beaupre, who lives in the Bar B Bar neighborhood, said he applied to be a “good community citizen” and take advantage of the time he has now that he’s no longer the hospital’s CEO.
Beaupre said he wants to be a good steward of the airport’s relationship with the Park Service as it’s one of the only airports in the United States located within a national park. Also, as the airport gears up for a major construction season, Beaupre wanted to offer his experience with administering large-scale construction projects like Sage Living, the new skilled nursing facility that opened this year on the St. John’s Health campus.
He also has received an endorsement from the Airport Noise and Pollution Action Committee, or ANPAC, a group that has spun up to lobby the airport and Federal Aviation Administration to adopt new noise-reducing aviation procedures. The idea is in part to reduce noise over neighborhoods south of the airport that deal with noise from jet traffic.
Jeffrey Cohen, a member of the ANPAC executive committee, said his group hadn’t reached out to Beaupre.
Rather, they heard he was applying, realized he was sympathetic — Cohen and Beaupre are neighbors in Bar B Bar — and decided to toss him an endorsement.
“One of his goals was to try and relieve the noise. But it was not what I saw as his campaign platform,” Cohen said. “He’s a serious guy. He’s not some poser or somebody who’s just coming in to do the bidding and business of ANPAC.”
Beaupre said he was interested in “doing the safe thing” but didn’t say what, exactly, that was.
He didn’t say whether he’d support a particular flight path that would cut noise, but did say “I think there are opportunities for aircraft to leave this area and not be quite as obtrusive.”
And he took issue with pilot Tony Chambers and his scenic helicopter tour business Wind River Air, which has rankled some Teton County residents who oppose the tours, particularly over wilderness areas and Grand Teton National Park.
“It seems that we’re being pretty passive to that and not trying to enhance our relationship with the [Federal Aviation Administration],” Beaupre said.
Where the town and county will land on the airport board appointment remains to be seen.
Buckley said in her application that “the next phase of operating the airport must focus on the visitor experience.”
Appointing her would continue a soft tradition of having someone connected to the ski resort on the volunteer airport board.
Blann, a former resort president, served for over two decades but wasn’t formally connected to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort the whole time.
Wallace said in his application that he is interested in “policies and programs that improve the national park system.”
His appointment would put a Washington, D.C., and Park Service insider on the board.
But appointing some of the other people, like Stewart or Small, would bring other aviation, business and airport experience to the table.
Stewart, for his part, said his decision to apply was not about him.
“It’s not about me personally,” he said. “It’s about supporting the critically important aviation business that supports tourism in that whole northwest corner of Wyoming.”
This article has been updated to correct a misattribution. It was Rick Stewart who said his decision to apply was "not about me personally." — Eds.