Weekly News Roundup: Friday, March 18

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on a proposed development in Rafter J, state officials reacting to the Ukraine crisis and local bears emerging from hibernation.
Grand Teton National Park broke visitation records in 2021. (Michael Vi/Shutterstock)

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

Cheney Responds to Zelensky Address

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican, held a press call with Cowboy State reporters Wednesday shortly after watching Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s virtual address to Congress. Cheney described it as an “unprecedented” speech and said it hit home due to both the assault the Ukrainian people are facing and the nature of Zelensky as a leader.

“When he finished his remarks, it was clear he seemed to be running his own tech. He stood up out of his chair to, you know, go and basically turn things off in the same way that all of us do when we’re on Zoom,” she said. 

Zelensky made an emotional appeal for the U.S. to do more to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion, including implementing a no-fly zone above the country. Cheney said she has concerns about escalating the conflict but that she agrees the U.S. can do more to help–and more quickly.

“I was disappointed when the administration blocked the transfer of the MiG aircraft to the Ukrainians. I think that that is something that should go forward,” Cheney said. 

The representative also said she’d like to see economic sanctions imposed on the top 100 Russian oligarchs and their families, as well as the removal of all Russian banks from the SWIFT network system. 

Planning Commission Approves Rafter J Development

The Teton County planning commission voted 3-2 twice on Monday in favor of building workforce housing at the former Legacy Lodge assisted living center in Rafter J. The project has proven to be controversial and has drawn ire from neighbors for potential traffic, infrastructure and quality of life impacts in the community. However, planning commissioner Kasey Mateowski said the need for affordable lodging in the area goes beyond one location’s needs. 

“Regardless of what you’re saying with everything else, it’s time for Teton County to start riding for the brand,” he said. “If our brand is going to be to keep workforce housing people here, everybody has to take a hit. You’re going to have new neighbors. You’re going to have strangers in your neighborhood. But that’s what we are as a community.” 

The proposal would build approximately 57 units, but still has many hurdles to overcome, including votes from the Board of County Commissioners, approval from the Rafter J Homeowners Association and even lawsuits that have been threatened over this development. The closure of the Legacy Lodge does mean that no assisted living facility exists in Teton County, and many folks against redeveloping the building argue senior housing is also a major local problem that needs to be addressed. 

Lummis Votes Against Recent Spending Bill 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers approved a $1.5 trillion spending package last week, which will allow the federal government to continue operations and provide an aid package to Ukraine. Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican, voted “no” on this bill, but continues to speak out against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. In a speech on the Senate floor, she said her concern over federal debt, defense spending and second-amendment rights pushed her to a difficult vote. She also said was frustrated that she was even forced into the decision. 

“It’s a cynical ploy,” she said. 

But supporters of the bill said a fast vote was necessary to avoid a federal government shutdown, and to get money to Ukraine as fast as possible. Wyoming’s other senator, Republican John Barrasso, supported the spending package.

Gordon Reacts to Legislative Session

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon held a press conference Monday, where he reflected on the state legislature’s budget session, which ended last week. Lawmakers approved of the smallest state budget in a decade, in addition to spending federal American rescue plan dollars, but their allocations towards mental health, education and energy reflect many of Gordon’s values. Still, he said further investments, particularly on the housing front, could be coming in the near future. 

“It’s not only Jackson, it’s also Sheridan, and it’s Crook County, and Gillette and Laramie County as well. And we really do need to address not only affordable housing, but housing for both the lower incomes and middle incomes.”

Gordon also said he was excited to end the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which had been in place for about two years. He said the Coronavirus no longer poses a threat such that executive action is necessary, however, a shortage of nurses and healthcare workers still plagues the state, and so a few of the governor’s provisions remain to maintain Wyoming’s facilities. 

Local Bears Awake from Slumber 

The first bears emerging out of hibernation for the season have now been spotted in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This time of year, the animals tend to be searching for food, and can act more aggressively towards humans. So local wildlife managers are reminding folks to secure livestock feed and garbage in bear-resistant containers, be alert, hike in groups and make noise when out in the wilderness, and carry bear spray in case of an encounter.

GTNP Breaks Visitation Records 

More than 3.8 million people visited Grand Teton National Park in 2021, the highest number in the park’s history. July of last year was also the busiest month ever recorded in Grand Teton, and recreational use has steadily increased at most popular trailheads over the past five years. Park superintendent Chip Jenkins said more people enjoying the outdoors is a good thing, but that his staff will continue to look into impacts of record visitation.

Local Residents Among Most Generous in the U.S.

A newly released report ranks Teton County, Wyoming, as not only the most generous in the state, but the most charitable in the country. The financial tech company SmartAsset looked at tax return data to calculate both the percentage of residents in each county that itemize philanthropic contributions in their tax returns, and the total percentage of income given each year. On average, 15% of locals give each year, more than double the next closest county in the state. And those residents give about 10% of the average yearly income in the area, over 10 times the nationwide rate. Teton County also has the highest income inequality in the nation, and other Western resort communities rank similarly in this generosity index. 

Firefighters Get a Pay Bump

Jackson Hole elected officials voted to give local firefighters a 15% pay raise earlier this week. The decision followed months of advocacy from Fire/EMS staff and their families, as well as salary increases across the board for most other county personnel earlier this year. Similar firefighting positions in other resort communities currently make a higher yearly salary, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, and the pay increases are intended to help retain staff, improve the mental health of first responders and adjust to higher standards of living in Teton County. 

 

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