Weekly News Roundup: Friday, July 16

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about changes to the affordable housing program, drought mitigation measures and an increased risk of COVID-19 in Teton County.
Anchored houseboats hang out at Hall's Crossing Marina at Lake Powell in southern Utah. (Luke Runyon/KUNC)

Teton County Reduces Hours for Recycling Center

The Teton County Recycling Center recently announced cuts to its office hours due to staffing constraints at its facilities. The move comes as businesses across Jackson Hole struggle to find workers, in large part due to a lack of affordable housing in town. County Commissioner Greg Epstein brought up how a stressed and depleted workforce has affected the town’s recycling program at a voucher meeting Monday. 

“People are using our recycling bins as dumpsters throughout the county, and it’s making it really frustrating for the employees of ISWR to have to, you know, they don’t have time to sort, so what ends up happening is entire bins are going to the landfill,” Epstein said. 

The recycling center is now open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and closed Saturdays and Sundays. However, general recycling bins at Teton County’s facilities will be still available after hours. 

Search and Rescue Mid-year Review 

Teton County Search and Rescue published its mid-year review and rescue report last week. The report covers the six-month period from December 2020 to May 2021, during which the team got a total of 47 calls resulting in 31 active missions. Last winter also included the busiest period in history for the volunteers. That was during the last two weeks of February, when the Tetons got more than nine feet of snow and the avalanche danger was at least “considerable” every day. Matt Hansen is communications director for the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation.

“The rescues that were happening last winter were frequent and really intense. The team dealt with four fatalities — three in Teton County, one down in Lincoln County,” Hansen said. 

The team also conducted 20 helicopter missions, which Hansen said is far more than ever before in a six-month period. About half of all rescues involved backcountry skiing or snowboarding, while 43% percent involved snowmobiling. The highest number of rescues was made on Togwotee Pass, followed by Teton Pass. 

 Town and County Approve Changes to Affordable Housing Program

The Teton County Board of Commissioners and Jackson Town Council held a joint meeting Monday, during which they accepted several proposed changes to the local housing department. The first is to offer more leniency to the Preservation Program, which purchases deed restrictions from local homeowners in an effort to keep more workforce housing units in the valley, often in the form of down payment assistance. Director of the Affordable Housing Department April Norton said in her presentation that a number of roadblocks were holding the program back. 

“Barriers to the program [include]: lack of inventory that’s affordable to their household, and then $150,000 is just not enough for their household to be able to afford something that’s currently for sale,” Norton said. 

The biggest shift for the program will be increasing the amount of money a single household can receive for down payment assistance to up to $200,000. More information on the Preservation Program is available at jhaffordablehousing.org. The board of commissioners and town council also accepted proposed changes to the housing authority’s rules and regulations, including allowing DACA recipients to purchase deed-restricted housing units. Councilman Jim Rooks expressed his support for that particular effort.

“Listen, when we talk about DACA recipients, we just always have to remember, I mean, these are our kids. These are our local kids. Amazing groups of kids we’ve seen come up. And, of course, Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals [DACA] has, like a long little roller coaster, has very much been confirmed by the current administration,” he said. 

Other changes to local rules and regulations include altering the disability exception for those that apply for employee housing, as well as a few calculation updates for those renting in a unit classified as a dormitory. More details on what exactly the commission and council voted on are available at jacksonwy.gov under “Agendas and Minutes.”

COVID Risk Level Now Yellow in Teton County

Teton County has moved back up into the yellow risk level for COVID-19 due to an increasing number of cases locally. The county had been in the green, or new normal, since May 12. In the past two weeks, there have been 28 confirmed coronavirus cases countywide, with more than 80% of positive tests coming from unvaccinated community members, according to the Teton County Department of Health. Precautions under the yellow risk level include staying home when sick, getting tested when you think you have symptoms and wearing masks when needed. County Health Director Jodie Pond also said the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19, including from the multiple variants found in Wyoming, is to get vaccinated. Questions about vaccines can be directed to the local COVID-19 hotline at 307-732-8628.

Feds Plan Emergency Release of Water to Manage Drought

The federal government is planning emergency releases of water from reservoirs in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to prop up the nation’s second-largest reservoir, Lake Powell.

Water from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado, Flaming Gorge in Wyoming and Navajo in New Mexico will be sent downstream to boost Lake Powell, which is about to hit a record low. The releases are meant to preserve the ability to generate hydroelectric power at Lake Powell’s dam, which is under increasing threat due to its low level. Powell is situated on the Colorado River, a drinking and irrigation water source for tens of millions of people in the southwest. Emergency releases are set to begin immediately and could last until December. Meanwhile, drought conditions in the Colorado River basin continue to worsen.

Nearly 86% of the land area in Teton County is currently experiencing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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