Two decades of war

Kabul falling mid-August felt foreign. I was in “mom mode,” enjoying play dates at Powderhorn, hosting East Coast family.

Aug. 16: Video of Afghans chasing the U.S. Air Force aircraft, some falling to their deaths.

Aug. 26: 13 Marines killed in Kabul.

Aug. 27: Rylee McCollum’s story released.

Aug. 29: Explaining to my 6-year-old why the table next to us at the Flying Saddle is empty, except for 13 beer glasses and patriotic place mats naming the fallen Marines.

Aug. 31: Is President Biden going to pull out all of the troops? What about the Americans left behind?

Mix of despair, anger, feeling helpless. Why am I so blessed with a safe life in Jackson, while other Americans are stranded in Afghanistan? What’s going to happen to women under the Taliban?

Sept. 10: Seeing McCollum’s coffin, and a few thousand Americans waving flags along Cache and Broadway. I was with my daughter and friends in front of Staples, but couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. Too many intense emotions about Afghanistan recently, mixed with Pentagon memories anytime the “Where were you on 9/11?” question arose.

My husband and I were sitting at our Pentagon desks on 9/11: fifth floor, D and E rings, and most importantly, 1st corridor. I felt “The Building” shake, and assumed a bomb had gone off. It couldn’t have been a plane, I thought; it only felt like an air conditioner turned on.

I called my husband at his desk. “Corridor 2, South Parking? Yes.” No time for chatting, time to focus on accountability, lock the vaults.

My CPA friend Leslie found me. We looked down the long and mostly empty hallways, and didn’t see anyone running, or smoke. It seemed so calm, we decided to stop in the ladies’ room on our way to South Parking. The parking lot was full of small groups standing in their own circles, trying to get cell calls through, doing accountability and watching the smoke pour from “the building” for a few hours.

My husband and I eventually walked home. It felt strange, watching the news from our safe home. Why did we survive, God? We’re ready to die, but others weren’t.

And why did Afghanistan fall back into Taliban hands?

And why take young McCollum from a job he loved, and leave a young widow to raise their baby alone?

May God help us.

Andrea Psmithe

Jackson

Real estate push, pull

I must have had time on my hands. I counted the number of actual help-wanted positions offered in this paper last week.

This was tricky as 69 of the display listings were for multiples of positions (carpenters; housekeepers; line cooks; food runners). Some of these could be just for two, others for several people, so I gave these an arbitrary three. Therefore my random count of 430 positions offered in this paper could well be short. That’s just the classifieds in the News&Guide — others will be listed on myriad social media and professional publications. Consider also that some businesses, like the one I own with my wife (Massage Professionals of Jackson Hole), have given up advertising, even though we’re down 50% with more staff leaving this winter.

Some notably high numbers for help-wanted are for the nascent local REI, St. John’s Health, some of the area’s top hotels, and especially restaurants/food service, where the numbers are a dozen or more per ad. Literally dozens of seasonal workers are needed soon for ski resorts and attendant industries. Target and even more hotels are coming next spring.

How can businesses function or give any semblance of good service without that help? By over-taxing the existing staff? At-a-glance the average pay is about $20/hour. (With benefits and sign-on incentives in some cases.) The handful of rentals available are out of reach of these workers. People often work two jobs — effectively removing two work positions when they’re forced to leave town. Small businesses unable to offer housing incentives are at risk of failure.

At what time will the lack of services available in Teton County have a deleterious effect on the value of real estate? There are homes — “estates” — for sale in the tens of millions of dollars. For that much they expect a steady stream of impeccable services such as maintenance, cleaning, catering. There are long lines everywhere in town. Ironically, it’s these real estate prices that are the direct cause of this critical issue, and yet how much does high-end real estate, and that industry, pay into the vast housing mitigation efforts and expense left in the hands of local authorities?

T. Hamish Tear

Jackson

Rome is burning

Rome (Jackson) is burning and the consultants and planners are getting paid.

Yves Desgouttes’ recent letter to the editor cuts to the chase. The environmental lobby has for many years restricted the ability of the community to build affordable workforce housing. Yes, some has been built, but the amount doesn’t dent the need. The Environmental Lobby is reaping what they have sewn and Jackson is suffering as a result. Wyoming has 62,342,000 acres, Teton County has 2,698,000 acres, and the locals worry about 210 acres in northern South Park.

How is it possible to have a variance between 98 and 2,380 potential units? Have the “planners” calculated the real need both for now and into the future?

While we watch businesses cutting back hours, and or closing due to lack of employees, the planners keep receiving their checks. It’s time to make a decision; say 1,000 units and move forward.

The basic physical infrastructure will take months, if not years, so adjustments as to type, size, cost of housing, etc., can be made as the project moves along.

There’s an old saying that “crisis creates change,” and obviously we are witnessing a crisis.

Jim Thompson

Jackson

Planning failure

I am writing to let you know my experience working through the Northern South Park planning process and what I view as failure of process. This letter is intended to alert the community that action is needed to salvage this process. I am speaking to my own experience and frustration. Our talented committee members might feel differently, so please do not attribute my comments to anyone but myself.

Back in February and March of 2021, I implored the county planning staff and consulting team to use the Steering Committee as extra hands. We had an aggressive timeline, which our housing crisis absolutely calls for. However, I believed with the talent of my fellow committee members (veteran and award-winning local and national planners in their own right) we could help. The consulting team and the planning department assured the committee that they had the tools and expertise to get things done and share their work with us in a timely manner.

I repeatedly asked that an existing conditions report be given to the committee, the electeds, and the community before the consultants started drafting models. I am a consultant too, I have worked on several economic development issues across the state. The data and the numbers matter. I told both the County Planning Department and the Opticos team that if we did not base our plans and drafts in reality we would set this process up for failure. I shared this during a recorded and broadcast meeting this spring so you can fact-check me.

I was assured by the planners and Opticos there was nothing to worry about and that Opticos would provide an “existing conditions report” before diving into the planning.

This never happened. We never received an existing conditions report. I noted as much to the News&Guide in June.

I sat down with Commissioner Mark Newcomb to express my deep concerns on June 11. I said if the goal of this process is to create a tool through which the county can evaluate upzoning requests for this and other parcels, we would not get anything of the sort. I predicted the consultants would draw planned communities. I predicted they would not give the Commissioners the legal, financial, or regulatory framework needed to use or create a tool. Commissioner Newcomb shared that none of the commissioners had seen an existing conditions report either. They had a map with notes that we drafted back in the spring.

And look where we are today.

The Steering Committee was not consulted by the County Planning Department or the Consultants again until August 20. At that time the Steering committee had questions about the assumptions underlying the models. What were the land values, what traffic studies were consulted, did this modeling require both a Tribal Trails road and an East West connector across both NSP properties (yes to both), and why was the open space designed thusly?

The consultants and planning staff said they would have to get back to us on many of these items. It was also made clear that any substantive edits to the models would be outside the scope of work and require more taxpayer money. I was taken aback and said to the County Planning team during the meeting that this was exactly the scenario I said would happen if the landowners and Steering Committee were not involved in the process.

It took a full week for the consultants and the County planning department to provide documentation back to the Steering Committee just to explain how they came up with the land values. And, contrary to their statements to the public that tier 1 and tier 2 housing required no subsidy, if current land values for suburban parcels are factored in, the community would need to kick in an additional $30 million to $49 million to even make that housing type work.

Now, the consultants say that we as a community do not have the right to know the inputs for their financial models.

After being forced to hold all our meetings in public, after saying this is a public process, the factual basis for spending millions of taxpayer dollars cannot be shared.

This is why we have working people living in the forest. This is why we have not built affordable housing. The safeguards and stop-gates have been completely ignored. I am told now that if we want the data for the models we have to pay the consultants more money.

Here’s the quiet part: Had the county not demonized the landowners and had the county worked with local experts, we could have affordable housing being built right now.

From comments from the Gills: “Our previously proposed AR-TC rezone application would have allowed 312 small, town-size, small lots on 74 acres with 65% of the lots deed restricted as required by the restrictive covenant on the land, with the allowance for 2 small rentals on each lot, in addition to the main house. Of those 312 lots, the Gills were willing to deed restrict 65% of the lots (or 202 lots) with no public subsidy or east-west connector required to build them. On the Gill parcels alone this would have looked like: 110 market lots; 40 lots donated to Habitat for the Tetons; 50 lots donated to the Housing Trust; and the remainder sold at 1980 land values to the Housing Trust (and potentially the Hospital) to oversee. This appears to be more beneficial and positively impactful if it is extrapolated across all of Northern South Park when compared with any alternatives.”

Instead of working collaboratively we have spent $400,000 of taxpayer money to be told if we want the data we have to pay more.

This is a shame. We have no better tools today than when we started.

Jennifer Ford

Jackson

Get to know Kemmerer

As a long time subscriber, I’ve been surprised and disappointed that more than a month after Jay Kemmerer’s participation in an alt-right fundraising event there’s been no coverage at all of a businessman who plays such an outsized role in the economy and life of our valley.

At the very least, someone in the local news media could ask him to share his thoughts on politics and current affairs.

If Mr. Kemmerer rejects the invitation for a sit down interview, what media outlets around the country then do is look at the public records that by law document contributions of various kinds to political parties, political action committees and nonprofits. There are also the many people who’ve interacted with him that one can talk to, the public statements he’s made, and past actions that have been the subject of news coverage in other parts of the country.

To have so visibly voiced his support for Marjorie Taylor Greene and crowd has catapulted Mr. Kemmerer into the public sphere, and opens the door to this coverage for the same reasons that the Koch brothers and George Soros are.

In the same way that Mr. Kemmerer has come to know us as supporters and employees of the ski resort that he owns here, it’s time now with the help of local news outlets for us to be given the opportunity to get to know more about him.

Ben Read

Jackson

Walking their talk

William S. Hayes wrote an anti-Patagonia letter that you printed on Sept. 1. He seems to not understand the concept of effect and cause. I don’t buy organic food because I hate people that make fertilizers and pesticides. I have a car that gets good gas mileage but I don’t dislike people who work at gas stations. Here’s what it boils down to: Patagonia walks their talk.

John Wasson

Wilson

Test some? Test all

It should be no surprise that I am not in favor of mandates regarding personal health choices. That being said, if protocols or rules shall be applied; they shall be applied equally to all individuals. The Center for the Arts just sent out an email release with their new COVID-19 protocols, effective Oct. 1. All individuals must wear a mask, but only unvaccinated individuals need to shell out for a test within 72 hours of entering the building. What?

Is it still “news” to some that vaccinated individuals can contract COVID-19. Vaccinated individuals can spread COVID. So, if the rule applies to one group that can spread COVID, the rule shall apply to all groups. Otherwise, discrimination lawsuits will be forthcoming.

Here is the exact reason why. This if a firsthand account. Two University of Wyoming students just last week headed to a Harry Styles concert in Denver. One student was vaccinated and needed to show her vaccination card to get into the concert. The other student was unvaccinated and needed a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the concert. They drove together for over two hours to get to the show. Upon arrival, the unvaccinated girl was given her entry bracelet after validation of her negative COVID test. The vaccinated student discovered that her vaccination was refused because she was just shy of the two weeks after her second dose. No biggie, right? They had rapid testing on site. Well, the vaccinated student received a positive COVID test result and was denied entry.

Back at school, the unvaccinated student is self-quarantining outside of her dorm because she unknowingly rode for two hours in a car with a vaccinated student who was positive with COVID.

How could this have been avoided? All individuals going to the concert should have been treated equally. If you are going to require testing of some, test all.

I am embarrassed at the blatant display of discrimination happening all around us. I am disgusted at comments I am seeing online that “anti-vaxxers” should be denied service, health care, and basically treated as subhumans. First, refusing a brand new vaccine does not make one anti-anything.

Second, there are folks who cannot get the vaccine. Shame on those who are suggesting they are treated as second-class citizens.

Wow, we don’t learn very well from history, do we?

Gloria Courser

Jackson

Letters to the editor should be limited to 400 words, be signed and include a town of residence and a telephone number for verification. Letters are due by noon Monday. No thank yous or political endorsement letters. Guest Shot columns are limited to 800 words. Email editor@jhnewsandguide.com.

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