County commissioners in Wyoming and Idaho are officially collaborating to understand how Grand Targhee’s proposed expansion will affect communities on the west side of Teton Pass.
That’s the result of a split decision Tuesday from Wyoming’s Teton County Board of County Commissioners to pony up roughly $25,000 toward a socioeconomic study that their counterparts in Teton County, Idaho, are spearheading.
The Idaho commission’s goal is to understand what the expansion of the ski hill would mean for western Teton communities already feeling pandemic-driven housing pressures. And they hope the study will go beyond work that another consultant, SE Group, is doing to evaluate Grand Targhee’s proposed expansion in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest via the National Environmental Policy Act and an associated environmental impact statement.
Cindy Riegel, the Teton County, Idaho, commissioner who discussed the study with the Equality State board Tuesday, said it’s intended to understand how the expansion will do to roads, traffic, waste management, labor and housing on the Tetons’ western slope.
“All of those things will then impact the county and city,” she said, referring to budgets. “That’s the crux of why I wanted to see a more in-depth socioeconomic impact analysis: to figure out what the impacts are going to be and what it’s going to cost.”
County commissioners from Teton County, Wyoming, voted 3-2 Tuesday to split the cost of the study with the Idaho board, something Idaho commissioners first requested in July.
“I am in support of partnering on this project, appreciate the work that Teton County, Idaho, has done, and do think we will get some information out of this that will be useful in a variety of capacities,” commission Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker said Tuesday.
Grand Targhee is located in Wyoming and county commissioners on this side of Teton Pass regulate planning, zoning and development that occurs at the ski area’s 120-acre base area. 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 surrounded by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
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.
But, aside from Alta, the resort is separated from most of Teton County, Wyoming, by the Teton range’s crest. And the east Idaho communities of Victor and Driggs will largely feel the outcome, positive or negative, of traffic and tourism centered around the resort.
Riegel said it was “great” to have at least a majority of the Wyoming commissioners’ support.
“The financial part is really nice,” she said. “It’s just a commitment to work together and try to gain some better understanding of what the impacts might be if the expansion’s approved and all of the base area development goes forward.”
Both commissions have said they hope to use the study to inform their comments on the Targhee environmental impact statement. And Riegel said she hopes it will be included her community’s public comments on the same.
Commissioners Luther Propst and Mark Newcomb joined Macker in voting for participating in the study.
The Alta Solid Waste District, which offered $4,000 towards the effort in July, supported that position.
But Commissioners Mark Barron and Greg Epstein voted against putting Wyoming dollars into the effort.
Barron worried about opening a Pandora’s box of financial partnerships with Teton County, Idaho, related to Targhee’s proposed expansion.
“I don’t know where this stops,” he said.
Epstein raised questions about Teton County, Idaho, efforts to bring Targhee to the table — Idaho officials said they’ve invited owner Geordie Gillett to a public meeting to discuss the issue — how the study would differentiate between the impacts of pandemic- and ski area expansion-induced growth, and why Idaho officials didn’t speak up when Wyoming commissioners were renewing Targhee’s base area entitlements in 2018.
“We probably should have,” said Rob Marin, Teton County, Idaho’s GIS specialist who is also keeping tabs on Targhee’s development plans. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t weigh in now.”
Epstein made a motion to only put $10,000 towards the study — $6,000 from Teton County and the $4,000 Alta Solid Waste had committed — but Commissioner Luther Propst, who made the motion to approve the larger $25,000 spend, shot that down.