St. John's Medical Center snow

With a large area fenced off for construction of Sage Living, St. John’s Medical Center found itself without a place to pile snow. An out-of-town landowner offered to take some, and the National Elk Refuge will take the excess.

Construction comes with a blizzard of unforeseen problems, but St. John’s Medical Center has avoided at least one flurry it didn’t see coming.

At the hospital’s board of trustees meeting in late October, St. John’s CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre announced that Sage Living construction had eliminated the hospital’s on-campus space to store snow removed from its parking lots.

Usually, whatever snow could be put in the northwest corner was piled to the side of the parking lot, but with a huge blue fence surrounding that area, St. John’s was facing an expensive endeavor to truck the snow off-site.

“We’re looking at a delta of about $200,000,” Beaupre told the board, an increase from $450,000 a winter to $650,000.

Since then, Beaupre said, the hospital entered into an agreement with a private landowner, who wishes to remain anonymous, Beaupre said. He called the arrangement “a salvation for us,” to dump snow on their just-outside-town land.

The change should save St. John’s about $150,000, meaning snow removal will be just $50,000 more expensive this winter.

In October, Beaupre told the board he hoped to be able to use the Teton County fairgrounds parking lot, which he understood to be for governmental entities. Though St. John’s is a nonprofit institution, it collects tax money through a mill levy and has a publicly elected board of trustees, making it a semigovernmental entity.

Using the fairgrounds would have reduced the hospital’s bill because it wouldn’t have to truck snow outside town limits, but Beaupre said the town nixed the proposal.

Street Manager Sam Jewison, who oversees snow removal in town, said that besides an informal conversation with the contractor that removes the hospital’s snow, he didn’t receive a request to use the parking lot, though he wouldn’t have supported a new entity joining the mix.

“We permit snow from the library and the post office and government parking lots,” he said. “If we let one extra person dump there, where do we draw the line?”

Beaupre recognizes with What the Sam Hill — a colloquial name for the fairground’s snow pile — already sticking around until May, adding more snow to the mound isn’t really an option.

“They’re really basically already at capacity,” Beaupre said. “When you drive by that mountain of snow, it’s not the prettiest thing to look at.”

To save money the hospital also entered into an arrangement with the National Elk Refuge, its neighbor to the north. With an expanse of open land that’s downright enviable in Jackson, the Refuge has ample room for extra snow. Beaupre approached officials to ask if the hospital could send some of its excess powder over the fence onto the federal preserve.

He told the board he got the idea from something he heard: Jackson Hole Airport pushes snow from its property onto contiguous Grand Teton National Park land.

“We do blow snow onto the park, with their approval,” Airport Director Jim Elwood said. “We’re committed to keep it as clean of debris as we can make it, and we walk the property line in the spring and clean it.”

Beaupre hoped Refuge officials would be just as cooperative, and he found support in Acting Manager Cris Dippel. They came to agreement that once the hospital is at capacity for where it can store snow, it can shoot snow over the fence.

It can’t use salt in its parking lots, and it has to make sure the elk are back from the fence before blowing any snow. But as for how far the elk have to be from the fence — 100 yards, 200 yards — that’s a bit loose.

“It’s more of a handshake agreement,” Dippel said.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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