The county will not get the oversight it requested for wildlife crossings along Highway 22, but commissioners voted unanimously to move the project forward anyway.
Some weren’t thrilled with the outcome.
“I’m gonna support the ARS,” Commissioner Luther Propst said. “But I do so without great joy.”
The “ARS” is a contract, an agreement to render services, specifically, that the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Wyoming Department of Transportation have been batting over for months. At its core the document sets out the terms for how the county will spend about $3 million of income from the specific purpose excise tax, or SPET, on two wildlife crossings.
One would be just west of the Highway 22-390 intersection and just east of Green Lane. The other would be just north of the intersection on Highway 390.
WYDOT plans to fund two more — one east of the Snake River Bridge and one immediately west — as it reconstructs the bridge and intersection in 2023.
Commissioners have sought information since April about how the crossings, which will be funded from the $10 million pool voters approved in 2019, would be designed and built.
In June they learned they wouldn’t be formally involved except for writing the check.
Instead, only as a stakeholder is how Teton County will be able provide input on the design process. Members include representatives from WYDOT, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Friends of Pathways, Teton County Public Works, the River Hollow Homeowners Association, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation.
Concerned about double-wide cattle guards and long stretches of 8-foot fencing, which advocacy groups decried as unsafe and a visual blight, commissioners asked WYDOT for the opportunity to review and approve designs.
The state transportation agency shot that down.
“WYDOT has not asked the county to pay for the wildlife fencing,” Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage told commissioners Tuesday.
The contract focused only on the physical wildlife crossing structures, with the transportation authority picking up the tab for the fencing.
The county may be able to seek a separate contract that would cover aesthetic issues like fencing and landscaping, but commissioners did not discuss that Tuesday.
WYDOT feels that structural design “needs to begin ASAP,” Ramage said. “If we do incur further delays, we may be jeopardizing the inclusion of these structures within the project.”
Members of the stakeholder committee largely showed up to support moving the contract forward.
Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch said the state agency supported the preliminary plans for the crossing network.
She pointed to a moose collaring study that collected data from March 2019 to June 2020 and showed that some ungulates had crossed roads in the area over 70 times in that period.
“We’re learning a lot about just how important this area is for moose, as well as other wildlife, and they are utilizing it to its full extent,” she said. “Once those wildlife crossings go in, we expect that moose and other animals are going to use them very readily.”
Stakeholder Jack Koehler, Friends of Pathways’ program manager, was the lone voice of dissent among stakeholders Tuesday.
He called the 8-foot-tall fencing intended to funnel ungulates to safe crossings “really quite unworkable.” He also doubted the intrusion of cattle guards into pathways, echoing input from another pathways advocate, Tim Young, the executive director of Wyoming Pathways.
Fencing is set to stretch from Wenzel Lane to Pratt Road on Highway 22 and until just south of Raven Haven Road on Highway 390.
Courtemanch said the fencing and cattle guards are critical to the crossings’ function and that the fence’s boundaries are grounded in the study, which found that most moose stick to the riparian area west of the Snake River and avoid the open fields to the east.
“WYDOT has proposed, and we agree, that we would like to run the fencing, at least on Highway 22, a little bit past where the majority of moose are moving,” she said.
Koehler called for more eyes on the project.
“I represent myself. I never ran for office. I’m not elected. I’m not accountable to anybody but my own conscience. And that’s troubling,” he said, urging commissioners to use their “position in the community” to ensure WYDOT follows stakeholders’ recommendations.
Commissioner Greg Epstein agreed before joining the board’s unanimous aye on the project.
“I think it’s just super important that communication and information flow come to us,” he said.