Idaho officials ask Teton County to pay for impact study

JACKSON — Elected officials trying to guard against runaway growth in Teton Valley would like to see their Jackson Hole counterparts pay more attention to the effects of proposals to expand terrain and build out the base area at Grand Targhee Resort.

Teton County, Idaho, commissioners are even asking their Teton County, Wyoming, counterparts to pay up. They’d like them to a fund socioeconomic impact study — about a $50,000 expense — assessing how the planned development will affect Teton Valley, impacting housing, transportation, wildlife habitat and other aspects of the community.

“We don’t have the money,” Teton County, Idaho, commissioner Cindy Riegel told the Jackson Hole Daily. “We just want to bill them. I think that’s probably the best way to do it.”

Teton County, Wyoming, commissioners are open to having the discussion. The two boards agreed to gather virtually at 10:30 a.m. July 19. Idaho’s three-person commission has already OK’d issuing a request for qualifications to consultants who would conduct the study.

Because Grand Targhee is located up the road east of Alta in Wyoming, county commissioners in the Equality State oversee planning, zoning and development on the 120 acres of private land at the base area of the westslope Teton Range resort. Decisions about what happens on the slopes are made by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which administers the ski area’s 2,517-acre permit area.

But it’s Teton County, Idaho — which plays a passive role in the decision-making — that will ultimately have to house the workforce and accommodate the infrastructure needs that would accompany a vastly larger, more built-out Grand Targhee.

In 2018, Teton County, Wyoming, commissioners renewed a master plan for Targhee that allows for up to 450 residential and rental units, as well as 150,000 square feet of commercial development. The Caribou-Targhee, meanwhile, is analyzing a sweeping expansion proposal that includes on-slope restaurants, a handful of new lifts and a nearly 50-percent increase in the size of the 65-year-old ski area’s permit area.

If they’re realized, the plans would double skier capacity, making Targhee similar to the size and bustle of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In Riegel’s view, that’s not what the Teton Valley community wants.

“Nobody here wants to be like Jackson,” she said. “It’s always used as an example of what not to do. Similarly, what not to do with a ski area is what has happened with Teton Village.”

Teton County, Idaho, commissioners expounded on their thoughts about the Grand Targhee predicament in a letter they signed and sent off June 28.

“If fully realized, this development plan, coupled with the privately owned base area development approved by Teton County in 2019, could significantly exacerbate transportation, housing, labor, emergency services, infrastructure, and quality-of-life challenges currently faced by the communities of Teton Valley, Idaho,” wrote Riegel and commissioners Michael Whitfield and Bob Heneage.

The Teton County, Idaho, government, they added, is already financially stretched. State statute constrains its budget, and it may not have the means to cover basic public services if the Caribou-Targhee National Forest allows Grand Targhee to do everything it wants.

Riegel says she knows Teton County, Wyoming, officials are battling their own critical issues right now: rampant growth, worsening traffic and a housing crisis. But she implored them to consider how decisions being made in Jackson Hole have major implications across the state line.

“Sure, it’s easy to ignore Grand Targhee and Alta, Wyoming, because they’re both on the other side of the hill,” Riegel said. “But it’s time to start paying attention and putting more energy and money, frankly, into what’s happening on the other side of the Tetons.”

That desire makes good sense to Teton County, Wyoming, Commissioner Luther Propst.

“The proposed Grand Targhee expansion would have profound social and economic impacts throughout Teton County, Idaho,” Propst said. “On the surface, people in Jackson Hole may think that’s not our problem. But Teton County, Wyoming, will get the gold mine and Teton County, Idaho, will get the shaft, and that’s not good for our community.”

Grand Targhee owner Geordie Gillett did not respond to a request for comment before press time.