Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Feb. 18

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the latest from the Wyoming State Legislature, Moose-Wilson Road closures and the arts in Teton Valley.
The Moose-Wilson Road will only be open on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day this summer for badly needed repairs. (Steven B Gold/Shutterstock)

by | Feb 18, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Gov. Gordon Gives State of the State

Gov. Mark Gordon opened this year’s legislative budget session with the annual State of the State address Monday. Speaking directly to lawmakers in the Capitol, Gordon pushed for the passage of his proposed budget, which he said will invest billions of federal dollars strategically towards some of Wyoming’s greatest needs, including mental health. 

“Suicide remains an all too frequent event, especially for our veterans, and I ask you to consider using American Rescue Plan dollars to do more to fight against suicide,” he said.

Gordon also pointed to outdoor recreation, education and healthcare as industries that need a boost amidst staffing shortages and an out-migration of young people from the state. News happening on the federal level, including the diplomatic crisis in Ukraine and the global fossil fuel economy, were also front and center in Gordon’s speech. He said an all-of-the-above strategy on energy, from investing in nuclear technology to fighting federal regulation and promoting renewables, is a major part of his agenda. 

“In this budget, I’ve asked for the ability to access $100 million so that we can be ready to, and I’ll say this again, seize the opportunities that match federal and private investments in large-scale energy projects,” he said. “That will help us innovate and grow our mineral and energy economies, and that is essential to our future.”

Gordon’s budget proposals now move onto the Wyoming State House and Senate, where a revenue picture for the next two years should quickly come into view during the next four weeks. 

Proposed Bill Focuses on Juvenile Justice

A bill aimed at improving data collection on juvenile justice in Wyoming advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The proposed legislation would require the state’s Department of Family Services to create a statewide database tracking offenses committed by adjudicated youth and what happens to them, whether they’re committed to detention, residential treatment, or their cases are otherwise handled. No standard statewide system for reporting such data currently exists, and that’s a problem, according to Director of the Wyoming Children’s Law Center Donna Sheen. Sheen testified virtually in favor of the bill.

“We need to understand what happens to youth in our system first, and then be able to find out what interventions give us the best outcomes. And so, without this critical initial piece, we’ll have very little luck, I think, turning our system around,” she said.

Federal data shows that Wyoming has long incarcerated juveniles at the highest rate in the country, though the way the state currently reports its numbers includes children in foster care and others not in locked facilities. The proposed bill will now advance to the House of Representatives for a vote by the whole body.

Snow Finally Expected Amid ‘Concerning’ Snowpack

Jackson might finally have a chance for a little snow from a system expected to come in starting Sunday, but the state of the snowpack is still concerning for Wyoming hydrologist Jim Fahey of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We’re gonna have to have one of those–what they call, where I’m from, the West Coast, California–it’s the ‘miracle March.’ Well, we’re gonna have to have a ‘miracle March’ as well,” Fahey said.

Fahey’s been working in Wyoming since 2003, and he said he’s seen unprecedented low levels for the Snake River over the past year.

“The Snake River has never been, even through droughts [and] drought years in the early 2000s, for the rest of Wyoming, the Snake River has always had plenty of water,” he said. 

The Snake Basin snowpack peaked at about 108% of median in early January but has dropped to 83% of median as of press time. Looking at an extended forecast, Fahey also said there are no current signs indicating above-average precipitation for March through May.

GTNP Preparing for Moose-Wilson Road Closure

It might only be February, but Grand Teton National Park is in the thick of planning for the busy summer tourist season. One development park officials want to give local residents a heads up about is that Moose-Wilson Road will be closed for much of next season for construction. Chip Jenkins is superintendent of the park, and he said that if you’ve been on the road, you get why the work is necessary.

“While we’re trying to maintain the rural character, the small, two-lane character of the road, really it got to the point where fundamentally the road needed to be reconstructed,” he said. 

Jenkins said the road won’t open again until Memorial Day weekend. From then until Labor Day next fall, it will only be open on weekends. The park is also adding more parking and bathrooms at the Granite and Death Canyon trailheads. Some construction will continue into the summer 2023 season, but without road closures.

Teton Valley Arts Receives Major Boost

A massive grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will be coming to Teton Valley. Teton Arts will gain $100,000 to boost their programming and operations, and executive director of the organization Greg Meyers said this is a much-needed funding boost for the local arts community as it recovers from the pandemic.

“We had this great trajectory and then nearly had to close everything and laid everyone off in 2020. So, to be able to kind of bounce back and now step into this, you know, new chapter for the organization where we have some momentum and now we have some funding behind that momentum,” Meyers said. “The snowball is just getting really big as we move forward, and it’s exciting to dream about the engagement we’re going to be able to have.” 

That engagement will come through scholarship programs, community workshops and maintaining studio space in Driggs. The grant is by far the largest Meyers has ever received, he said, and he’s grateful for the organizational flexibility to continue growing. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last year and provides $135 million for the arts sector nationwide. 

COVID Cases Continue to Drop

Active COVID-19 cases have dropped dramatically in Teton County. There’s an average of just under 17 positive test results a day locally as of press time, compared to over 150 a month ago. Masks are also now optional in schools, and public officials have said recently that they don’t see a reason to ramp up any restrictions. However, the county health department did send a reminder Tuesday for folks still at risk of serious illness due to the coronavirus, such as immunocompromised and unvaccinated individuals, as well as people over 50 with underlying health conditions. The department pointed to resources available for those who are still concerned about contracting the virus, such as booster shots, new treatments and even preventative drugs. Officials also recommend measures like wearing N95 masks and taking advantage of regular rapid testing. More information about current resources for members of the community who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 can be found at tetoncountywy.gov/covid19.

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