Weekly News Roundup: Friday, April 15

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on local and state politics, the Jackson Hole Airport closure and federal wildfire prevention efforts.
Teton County State Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) announced this week that he'll seek reelection. (Courtesy of David Stubbs)

by | Apr 15, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

County Commission Debates Critical Local Issues

The Teton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to change the Land Development Regulations surrounding wildlife feeding and conflicts. Starting July 1, self-locking, bear-resistant trash containers will be required countywide. And additional mandates are now being put in place for bird feeders, beehives, commercial dumpsters and fruit tree enclosures, among other things. The aim of these new rules is to reduce human conflicts with wildlife, especially bears, and limited enforcement will begin this summer and fall. Read more coverage from KHOL on this issue here

The commission also heard hours of public testimony regarding the proposal to develop 57 units of workforce housing at the former legacy lodge assisted living center in Rafter J. The applicants are asking to change local regulations to allow for their proposal after months of planning, studying and debating. Stephen Fodor, who represented the building owners during testimony, implored the electeds to vote yes. 

“If we lower the hurdles and we don’t let perfection get in their progress, we can get heads in bed soon. Not three years down the line after county approvals for architecture, building and construction. But soon,” he said.

The Teton County Planning Commission has already voted in favor of the development, saying everything is legal, meets neighborhood character, and wouldn’t have massive negative impacts on existing residents. But dozens of Rafter J homeowners, including Margaret Creel, disagree. 

“This is not an application for affordable housing. It is an application for short-term, market-rate, dorm-style workforce housing with insufficient parking. [And] reliance on a flawed and pie-in-the-sky transportation plan,” she said.

The commission eventually voted to delay their decision to several weeks from now, to look into the history and exactly legal precedence behind this complicated case. However, with whatever happens, a lawsuit is likely to follow. 

TSA Asks For Patience Following Airport Closure

Monday marked the first day of an approximately 11-week closure at the Jackson Hole Airport to reconstruct the facility’s runway. And the Transportation Security Administration is expecting traffic that typically comes through Teton County to now utilize the region’s surrounding airports. Cody is going to double its flights to Denver, and Idaho Falls is expecting a 90% increase in daily passengers during May. Lorie Dankers is a spokesperson for the TSA, and she said folks should be prepared for longer waits at the security lines at regional airports than they might be used to. 

“You know, cutting it close really isn’t in vogue these days,” Dankers said. “Please plan to arrive early, arrive prepared, know all the steps that you need to take and make sure that you’re allowing the time to do that.”

Dankers said travelers following basic rules, like refraining from taking weapons or large liquids through security, will allow lines to move efficiently. Meanwhile, in Jackson, the construction project will allow for improvements on the TSA level as well on the runway.

“So this checkpoint, when the renovations are done, will be a four-lane checkpoint that’s going to be really helpful. That way, we can have all the lanes open during our busiest times. That’s going to make it quicker for the traveler,” she said. “We’ve also installed some new technologies that travelers will see. These are sort of the cutting edge, if you will, of what TSA is deploying across the country.”

Air traffic is increasing throughout the upper mountain west to beyond pre-pandemic levels. The Jackson Hole airport is currently set to open back up on June 28 in time for most of the summer season. 

Gierau Announces Reelection Campaign

Wyoming State Sen. Mike Gierau of Jackson announced Monday that he’ll seek reelection for his Teton County district. The Democrat has served in the local planning commission, Jackson Town Council, Teton County Board of Commissioners and as a representative and senator in Cheyenne. He’s been an advocate for housing, transportation and healthcare issues, and maintains his small business in addition to working in government. In an interview with KHOL last month, Gierau expressed his continued gratitude for being in his position. 

“It’s your district. It’s the citizens of Teton County’s district. It’s not mine. They let me sit in that seat,” he said. “All of us are temporary workers who are allowed temporarily to sit in those seats on behalf of the people of each of the counties that we serve.” 

As one of just two Democrats in the state senate, Gierau said he’s usually forced to reach across the political aisle to get things done. In a press release announcing his reelection campaign, he touted his recent legislative wins, including securing funding for K-12 education and Central Wyoming College and passing a bill that provides property tax relief for seniors and other long-time state residents. No challengers to Gierau for either major political party have entered the race yet. 

Snowpack Remains Low

Snowpack in every drainage basin in Wyoming is below the 30-median as of April 1, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the Snake River area, it’s 70% of the typical year after a weak March in terms of precipitation. What this means is that stream flows and reservoir storages will almost certainly be below average across the Cowboy State for the rest of the year, affecting farmers, recreationists and wildlife. 

Rec Center Project Over Budget

The final cost of Teton County’s Recreation Center expansion could be anywhere from $32 to $36 million, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported Wednesday. That’s at least $10 million more than the initial $22 million approved by voters as a Specific Purpose Excise Tax, or SPET measure, in 2019. Town and county officials have been torn over the rising costs for months and said they were caused by an impossible-to-predict global pandemic and then further complicated by the war in Ukraine, which has impacted the price of steel. Meanwhile, SPET applications for November’s ballot from both government departments and the community at large are due Monday, April 18.

Cheney Rakes in Campaign Cash

Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney raised nearly $3 million in the first quarter of this year for her reelection campaign. She now has $6.8 million in hand with four months before the primary, according to POLITICO, and this quarter’s eye-popping number breaks Cheney’s previous record for a three-month span. The Teton County resident appears to be far eclipsing her main competitors, attorney Harriet Hageman and State Senator Anthony Bouchard. However, she still expects to face stiff opposition due to her outspokenness against former president Donald Trump. 

Feds to Invest in Wildfire Prevention

The U.S. Forest Service will spend more than $131 million to help reduce the risk of wildfire across the West.  

The new money comes from the bipartisan infrastructure law. Officials introduced the mitigation plan in the middle of an area burned by the Cal-Wood fire in Oct. 2020. Charred trees provided a stark backdrop as congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) talked about the need for proactive measures to keep fires at bay. 

“It is clear that fire seasons no longer exist. Here in Colorado. We have fire years and the drought underscores that fact, and it is all the more reason and motivation for us to take wildfire mitigation and resiliency seriously,” Neguse said.

Climate change is driving up heat and drought, making wildfires more severe and more frequent,  especially in areas near homes.

Alex Hager from KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, contributed reporting to this story. 

 

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