Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Sept. 17

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on local housing news, responses to Biden's vaccine mandates, and programs promoting electric vehicles.
Northwest Wyoming officials have expanded their searches for Bob Lowery (left) and Gabby Petito (right) this week. (Grand Teton National Park)

by | Sep 17, 2021 | News

Wyoming to Combat Biden Mandates

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday that he’s creating a plan to combat “federal overreach from the Biden Administration.” Biden proposed vaccine mandates recently for any employer with over 100 workers, and several Cowboy State officials have said they’ll fight back using lawsuits, legislative sessions, or any other means. It’s not clear exactly what Wyoming realistically can do about the Biden announcement just yet, and more details are likely to surface as the requirement inches closer to becoming actual federal law. But it’s clear that Gordon remains wholeheartedly opposed to any mandates even as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Wyoming remain at peak levels not seen since the end of last year. 

Electeds Pass Changes to Housing Regulations

The Teton County Board of Commissioners and Jackson Town Council both approved changes to the local housing department’s rules and regulations at a joint information meeting Monday. This includes allowing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program recipients, to apply for affordable lodging. Written comments in support of this particular change poured into elected’s emails this week, and Director of the St. John’s Episcopal Church of Jackson Hole Jimmy Bartz gave impassioned public comment on the matter during Monday’s meeting. 

“We all have some sense, those of us who live here in the Valley full time, that this is a constituency of people who make enormous contributions to our community. And I believe that it is the right thing to do for us to extend access to this group of people,” Bartz said. “This is an opportunity for us as leadership in this town to create some equity where equity has not been extended prior to.”

Other changes, which all now go into effect because they’ve been read and voted on three times, include shifts in how the affordable housing department handles those applying for lodging with disabilities, as well as how it restricts dormitory units.

Local Officials Searching for Two Missing People

The Teton County Sheriff’s Office is seeking information regarding a man who’s been missing since Aug. 19 named Bob Lowery. The 46-year old man was visiting the area from Houston and was last seen near the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. He’s described as being around six feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes, wearing a black baseball cap with the letter “P” on it and a blue Patagonia vest over a T-shirt. Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact the Sheriff’s office at (307) 733-2331.

Local and federal officials in multiple states are also searching for leads regarding a missing woman, Gabby Petito, who last communicated with her parents on Aug. 25 from Grand Teton National Park. According to multiple social media posts and information from police in Suffolk County, New York, where Petito’s from, the woman had been traveling cross-country in a van with her boyfriend before disappearing. She’s described as about 5’5 and 110 pounds, with blonde hair, blue eyes and several tattoos. Anyone with information on Petito’s whereabouts can submit tips, anonymously or on the record, to FBI Denver at (303) 629-7171. 

Go Electric for the Day

A new program from Lower Valley Energy and Yellowstone Teton Clean Cities allows people to test electric vehicles right here in Jackson Hole. Through the program, co-op members at Lower Valley Energy can borrow an electric car for free for one to three days to find out if transitioning to electric may be right for them. According to Alicia Cox at Yellowstone Teton Clean Cities, a group whose mission is promoting alternative energies, many dealerships in rural areas like Teton County don’t have electric vehicles to test drive, an important step in buying a car or truck. This new program, which runs for the next three years, lets people get a taste.

“There’s a lot of questions that people rightfully have because they want to know if there’s enough range, how to charge it, and how to plug it in. Does this operate and drive different than my gasoline vehicle? So we’re hoping by offering this program where you can borrow it for one to three days, folks can take it in their daily lives. They can drop the kids off at school, go to the office, go to the grocery store, do some errands downtown and figure out where to plug in in the public, how to plug in at home, and then understand their daily driving needs. And if the range of this vehicle is enough for them,” Cox said.

Program participants will try out a 2020 Chevrolet Bolt, which has a range of 250 miles before needing a charge. 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from transportation, according to Cox, including 65% of emissions in Teton County. And electric vehicles, if they’re the right fit, can be a cheaper, cleaner alternative.

County Seeks Housing Data

What’s your housing situation like? How much do you pay in rent, where in Jackson Hole do you lay your head, and where do you want to be? The Jackson Teton County Affordable Housing Department wants to know, according to department director April Norton. 

“This is information that is super relevant in the time of COVID,” Norton said. “I think we can all sort of look around the community and we can tell that things have changed. I think we are relying on anecdotes and some data. This really gives us that hard data that we need as we’re moving forward and looking at solutions for the housing crisis.”

The Teton Regional Housing Needs Assessment, open until Oct. 8 and available for all residents of Teton County and Northern Lincoln County, Wyoming, as well as Teton County, Idaho, takes about 15 minutes to complete. Together with a more specific nexus survey sent to major stakeholders around the community, data from participants will be compiled and presented to elected officials next year and used to create a resourcing and action plan. Norton said it’s been several years since the area has done any sort of survey like this. 

“We could easily say just build everything because we need everything. And that’s probably not a wrong answer. But as we’re thinking about finite resources for housing, development and infrastructure, we have to think about what is our highest need. And so having that data to really drive those decisions I think is important, again, in the near term and the long term as a community,” Norton said. 

The survey is available in English and Spanish and is separated into an employee webpage, and an employer webpage. Norton said her goal was to get 2000 participants. She’s already got 1600 and counting.

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Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on a potential special state legislative session, Gabby Petito’s autopsy results and Wyoming’s pink tax on cars.

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