Weekly News Roundup: Friday, March 25

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on Rep. Cheney’s event in Jackson, an early end to elk feeding and the future of town parklets.
Rep. Liz Cheney event in Jackson
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Nick Penniman (second from right), of Issue One, came together for a bipartisan conversation about U.S. elections at the Center for the Arts in Jackson on Tuesday. (Screenshot courtesy of the Center for the Arts)

by | Mar 25, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

 

New Affordable Housing Development Announced

The Teton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a new housing partnership last week that will create 57 100% deed-restricted apartments in downtown Jackson. The local housing department will work with the nonprofit Cumming Foundation to build the units, which will be located on Jackson Street near Snake River Brewing.

The development will cater to different levels of affordability throughout Jackson Hole, including 12 rentals for individuals making under about $50,000 a year. Before the vote, Commissioner Luther Propst praised the planning work for the public-private partnership.

“I think it’s exciting for two reasons. One is that we’re gonna get these housing [units] built. We’re gonna break ground this summer,” Propst said. “And then secondly, I think that with the right outcome, there’s plenty of other foundations in this county who might want to replicate this in other projects. And so, I think this is a great partnership with great long-term implications.”

Teton County plans to contribute $5 million cash and land with an estimated value of $5.6 million to the project, while the Cumming Foundation will fund the rest. The housing department is hoping to complete construction by 2024, but it requires one more vote of approval from the board of commissioners on April 12 before breaking ground.

Driggs Resident Killed in Ukraine War

A resident of Teton Valley, Idaho, was among the first Americans to be killed in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine last week. Jim Hill of Driggs was reportedly shot while standing in a bread line in the city of Chernihiv near the Russian border last Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of State. The Minnesota native had been living in Ukraine since December, and he was there seeking medical treatment for his partner. 

Speaking during an interview with Idaho News 6 Friday, Hill’s sister, Katya Hill, said generosity was a core part of her brother’s nature. 

“My brother was the helper that people find in a crisis,” she said. “At one point, he said he was in the store [and] he bought some cookies so he could bring cookies back to the nurses that were helping and couldn’t get out to the store.”

Hill had been documenting his experience of the conflict on his Facebook page, describing harrowing scenes of bombing, fear and hunger in Chernihiv. His death was first reported by Katya Hill Thursday, who said the family is still looking for more information about what exactly happened to Hill’s body and how it might be transported home. 

Rep. Cheney Talks Elections and Politics in Jackson

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was in Jackson Tuesday night for a bipartisan conversation about defending the Constitution and U.S. elections. In her opening remarks, Cheney said she can say with “absolute confidence that our democracy is fragile,” and that it’s American people who need to defend democratic institutions.

“I think one thing that we must always remember is that we live in a republic,” Cheney said. “And in a republic, no citizen can be a bystander.”

Cheney was joined by Nick Penniman, founder of the bipartisan political reform group Issue One. The organization advocates for elections and campaign finance reforms–some of which the two speakers agreed on. But there was also plenty of disagreement–like over Cheney’s recent opposition to the John Lewis Freedom to Vote Act.

“If there are Republicans who want to come to the table and present amendments, as Sen. [Lisa] Murkowski did, which is why she’s now the lead Republican sponsor in the senate of that bill, then come forward with the amendments,” Penniman said. “Let’s have a debate. Let’s get to the floor and amend stuff like y’all used to, on the floor, and pass a bipartisan bill.”

Cheney said she sees too many election reform proposals that give too much power to the federal government. However, she and Penniman agreed that election workers across the country need to be better protected and empowered amid a disturbing rise in threats against them. Cheney also gave a memorable answer Tuesday when an audience member asked how the introduction of a third party might change things in Congress.

“Look, I’m a Republican,” she said, before pausing. “Eh, well. Not all Republican–I pause because I’ve been kicked out of some party organizations,” the representative added to laughter from both her peers onstage and the audience. Cheney went on to say that she believes in what the Republican party stands for and that it’s hard to see how a third party could succeed in our current political system. 

Penniman quickly pointed out that the first part of her answer would likely be taken out of context by her opponents–to which Cheney also had a response.

“My chuckle was thinking about my fellow Republicans who think that they have kicked me out and can take over my party, which they can’t.”

Elk Refuge Ends Feeding Early

The National Elk Refuge ended its supplemental feeding program early this winter, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Frank Durbian manages the 25,000 acre refuge, which currently accommodates approximately 7,000-8,000 elk each season. He said the March 20 end date was possible due to a combination of low snowpack in Jackson Hole this season, as well as long-term planning efforts from wildlife managers set in motion a few years ago. 

“The aim of that plan is to reduce the dependency of elk and bison on supplemental feeding over a five-year period,” Durbian said. “And our initial goal, what we were hoping to do, was over time reduce the number of elk using the National Elk Refuge as a winter range to about 5,000 elk.”

Supplemental feeding has been a common practice in western Wyoming for over a century, and Durbian said weaning the animals off supplemental forage early allows them to spread out and find natural food. That in turn dampens the potential spread of disease among the herd and allows other plant and animal species to flourish. 

“We’re hoping that by reducing the amount of elk, we can start to regain some of that habitat and those habitat features and plant communities we’ve lost over time, which also provides habitat for a myriad of other bird species, ungulate species and other wildlife species that don’t have that habitat anymore on the refuge.”

Durbian doesn’t expect ending supplemental feeding to cause many issues around Jackson Hole, but any conflicts between animals and either livestock producers or urban areas can be reported to the refuge by calling 307-733-9212.

Jackson Restaurateurs Advocate for Keeping Parklets

The future of parklets in downtown Jackson was the major topic of discussion at an informal Chat with Town Council Members event on Wednesday afternoon.

Graeme Swain is co-owner of Gather Restaurant Group. He said he was alarmed by an email sent by the town earlier this week that made it seem like the pop-up outdoor spaces where diners have been able to eat al fresco during the pandemic would be done away with this year.

“It was the most successful [things], I feel, from my side, of what got me through one of the worst, scariest times of my life, and we came out on the other side great. I don’t want to make that move too soon,” Swain said. “Please, please do not hurt us as restaurants, man. We’re trying to survive and thrive.”

Nikki Gill, an owner of Jackson Drug, also joined Wednesday’s meeting and echoed Swain’s concerns.

Town officials clarified that no final decision on parklets for this summer has been made yet, but that there are some legal issues that need to be addressed. That’s because the spaces infringe on public rights of way like streets and sidewalks. A more formal discussion about parklets is scheduled to be held before the town council on April 11.

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