Proposed Grand Targhee Expansion Raises Concerns in Teton Valley

Some local residents and community leaders fear that a major proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort could have significant negative impacts on transportation, housing and quality of life.
View from Grand Targhee
A view from the north end of Grand Targhee Resort into Teton Valley, Idaho. The resort is seeking to add five new chairlifts and two on-mountain restaurants, in addition to other developments. (Jon Birch)

 

Anne Callison cherishes living in what she describes as the quiet end of the quiet side of the Tetons. The house she and her husband built in Tetonia about 13 years ago overlooks sage fields and a neighboring ranch, and she spends much of her time working outdoors.

“Lord knows I’m getting arthritis in my hands from gardening and weeding, but that’s okay because we love it,” she said.

Anne Callison

Anne Callison poses for a portrait outside of her home in Tetonia, Idaho. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

Lately, though, Callison has started to worry that the days of quiet in Teton Valley are numbered.

“We don’t want to be Jackson and we don’t want to be Sun Valley,” she said. “We don’t want this to be a destination resort, nor should it be a destination resort.”

The resort in question is Grand Targhee, which is located in Alta, Wyoming, but is only accessible through Teton Valley, Idaho. Targhee is hoping to expand significantly in the coming years, possibly to the tune of doubling its daily number of skiers and snowboarders. The resort wants to add five new chairlifts, two on-mountain restaurants, two warming cabins, a yurt, permanent snow tubing facility, about 30 miles of new summer trails and more. All of that is now under review by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Grand Targhee expansion plan

A map from Grand Targhee Resort’s 2018 Master Development Plan shows the resort’s proposed upgrade plan, which includes the addition of five new chairlifts and a significant expansion of the resort’s special use permit area. (Grand Targhee Resort/SE Group)

 

“It is a larger ask than typically you would see in that they usually just ask for a lift at one time,” said Jay Pence, who has served as Teton Basin district ranger for the forest since 2001.

Pence said Grand Targhee has submitted multiple so-called master development plans over the years, but never asked to implement so many proposed projects at once. That means it’s taking a lot of manpower to work on the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Forest Service has a third-party contractor doing most of the work, but both Teton County, Wyoming, and Idaho are also cooperating agencies.

Jay Pence

Jay Pence poses for a portrait behind a stack of Grand Targhee Resort’s master development plans from over the years in his office at the Teton Basin Ranger District station in Driggs. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

 

“Typically, we worry more about watershed health and vegetation and public safety. In this process, we’ve expanded that into avalanche hazards,” Pence said. “We do have our socioeconomic section in this document, and that’s what the counties are primarily working with us on.”

Still, the Idaho commissioners aren’t convinced the Forest Service’s socioeconomic analysis will be sufficient. That’s because there’s also commercial and residential development planned for the private land at the base of Targhee, including the construction of 450 residential units, and that land falls under the jurisdiction of Teton County, Wyoming—not the National Forest.

“No one’s looking at the big picture—taking those two kind of long-range plans for resort development and looking at the impact on our community,” said Cindy Riegel, board chair of the Teton County, Idaho Board of County Commissioners.

So, in late June, Riegel and her fellow commissioners sent a letter to their Wyoming peers detailing their widespread concerns about the impact the Targhee developments could have on transportation, housing, public services and overall quality of life in Teton Valley. They also asked Teton County, Wyoming, to fund a socioeconomic impact study.

Cindy Riegel

Cindy Riegel poses for a portrait outside of the Teton County Courthouse in Driggs. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

“We think this is going to have a major impact. But where’s the data to prove it, you know? Is that true or is it not?” Riegel said. “What is the impact exactly going to be on our roads and our traffic and our housing and our scenic views from Teton Canyon?”

Riegel and other Teton Valley residents like Callison, who’s been helping organize resistance to the expansion, worry that Wyoming will reap the benefits from increased property and sales tax at the resort while Idaho will bear much of the costs. There’s also frustration about a perceived lack of transparency about Targhee’s proposal and the Forest Service’s review process. Pence said that’s out of his control.

“We encouraged the resort to have some public scoping meetings before we entered the formal process. That didn’t occur,” he said. “And so, we’re going forward with a public process following our regulations.”

Grand Targhee Resort owner and General Manager Geordie Gillett declined an interview request for this story. The Forest Service held two virtual public meetings last September during its initial scoping period, but those may not have worked for everyone who wished to attend.

Howie Garber

Howie Garber poses for a portrait outside of his Driggs home. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

“At the beginning of the pandemic, some older folks like me didn’t even know how to get into a Zoom meeting,” said Howie Garber, a resident of Driggs who has also become a vocal opponent of the expansion plans. “So, you know, I felt like even though we had 380 people write letters during the scoping [period], some people felt cheated.”

Pence said the next best time for public feedback will likely come around January 2022, when he expects a draft EIS to be ready.

“I think my biggest thing that I’d like to have the public know is that it’s a process that we’re going through, and that all of the concerns that they’re currently spreading around the valley, honestly, their best opportunity to reengage the Forest Service on those is during that draft comment period.”

Riegel said she encourages Teton Valley residents to stay informed about the review process and that she welcomes folks to write to her commission anytime. She also said she’s hopeful about collaborating with Teton County, Wyoming, county commissioners like Mark Newcomb, who said he thinks the fears some Idahoans are feeling are valid.

“I think that the level of visitation and tourism and demand for ski resort services has reached a level that few of us ever imagined it would, and the ancillary effects and the collateral impact are significant,” Newcomb said. “If we could do some analytical work to put some valid numbers and figures and estimates behind the impacts that people are fearful of, [that] would be really helpful, and I would be in favor of that.”

Newcomb also said he believes there’s a possibility his commission would fully or partially fund the additional study requested by Riegel and her colleagues.

“There are important considerations there for both of our counties to look at and to work on together, and I hope that we do,” he said. “Hopefully, we still have enough time to dig into the details, put some real thought into it, look over all of the proposed benefits as well as all the proposed or possible costs, and come up with a very considered and thoughtful view when we do make a formal comment.”

Members of the Teton County, Wyoming, and Idaho boards of county commissioners will meet virtually at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 19, for a joint work session on the Grand Targhee expansion.

 

Anne Callison

Anne Callison, pictured at her home in Tetonia, worries that the days of quiet in Teton Valley, Idaho, are numbered. (Kyle S. Mackie/KHOL)

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About Kyle Mackie

Kyle is a multimedia journalist who joined KHOL as news director in January 2021. Prior to moving west, she reported on education, immigration, racial justice and more for WBFO, the NPR affiliate in Buffalo, NY. With a background in international reporting, Kyle has also worked in Israel and the Palestinian territories and the Western Balkans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and geography from The George Washington University and master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York. When not out reporting, Kyle can usually be found trail running, climbing, skiing or grooving to live music.

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