WILL GRAND TARGHEE RESORT EXPANSION PUT TETON VALLEY, IDAHO ON COURSE TO BECOME A DOPPELGÄNGER OF BIG SKY? A COUNTY COMMISSIONER VOICES HER CONCERNS
EDITOR’S NOTE: Greater Yellowstone is being rapidly inundated by development and many see the proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort as a flashpoint for dramatic changes that could transform Teton Valley, Idaho located along the west side of the Tetons. Among the many looming questions: is the US Forest Service obligated to help a private ski company expand its operations on public land so that it can notch more profit? Is it fair for the ski company to externalize its costs of doing business on the public? Is the county commission of Teton County, Wyoming being a good neighbor by greenlighting the resort’s growth knowing that much of the fiscal, social and environmental costs will be foisted on the citizens of Teton County, Idaho? In this guest essay below, Cindy Riegel, chair of the Teton County, Idaho Board of Commissioners, speaks of concerns she has an elected leader. Having lived earlier in her life in Jackson Hole on the other side of Teton Pass, Riegel is well aware of what happens when a major ski destination—the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—expands to mimic the kind of industrial strength infrastructure found at Colorado resorts. Recently, it was revealed that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has been in secret meetings with officials from the Bridger-Teton National Forest seeking to expand its skiing terrain into places that provide vital habitat for a remnant bighorn sheep herd. —Mountain Journal
Mountain Journal, February 27, 2023
By Cindy Riegel, Chair of the Teton County, Idaho Board of Commissioners
Grand Targhee Resort (GTR) owners, investors, and consultants are working hard to evolve from a regional resort into a “world class destination resort” on the west side of the Teton Range.
Its location straddles the shared border of Teton County, Idaho and Teton County, Wyoming. While the resort resides in Teton County, Wyoming, many of the social, community and environmental impacts would fall upon the public and private lands of Teton County, Idaho.
In addition to a proposal to the US Forest Service to significantly expand the resort boundaries and on-mountain amenities, Grand Targhee Resort recently submitted their first development application to Teton County, Wyoming to construct a base area village with cabins, condos, hotels, restaurants, and retail stores.
For a little background, the resort acquired 120 acres at the base area from the Forest Service in 2004 after a lengthy and contentious process that involved swapping a 400-acre inholding at Squirrel Meadows near Ashton, Idaho. Since the base area became private, all zoning and land use decisions fall under the jurisdiction of Teton County, Wyoming.
If you ski up there, you know the addition of the Colter Lift has opened up a lot of new terrain. ‘The Ghee’ feels a little less quaint and a little more like a large ski area in Colorado or Utah.
Now imagine increasing lift-served terrain by an additional 25 percent, adding on-mountain lodge/restaurants, and constructing a residential and commercial village at the base.
The success of these extravagant plans is only possible with the services, infrastructure, and cooperation provided by Teton County, Idaho and the cities within.
The residents of Teton Valley, whom I serve, will be paying for the additional impacts on our roads, schools, law enforcement, and emergency services. Meanwhile, new property tax revenue from residential and commercial development at the base area along with all sales tax revenue on lift tickets, food and beverage, retail sales, and lodging will be funneled to Wyoming.
The consequences of becoming a “world class destination resort” on our quality of life are easy to imagine because we have one on the other side of the Tetons in the form of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. That has resulted in increasing traffic and accidents; wildlife roadkill; air, noise and light pollution; more luxury homes and short term rentals; an insurmountable affordable housing crisis; and a mountain that locals can’t afford to ski at. The big difference is that the taxes collected in Teton Village actually go to the community where Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is located.
“The consequences of becoming a ‘world class destination resort’ on our quality of life are easy to imagine because we have one on the other side of the Tetons in the form of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. That has resulted in increasing traffic and accidents; wildlife roadkill; air, noise and light pollution; more luxury homes and short term rentals; an insurmountable affordable housing crisis; and a mountain that locals can’t afford to ski at.” —Teton County, Idaho Commission Chair Cindy Riegel
We elected officials in Teton County, Idaho have consistently expressed our concerns to both the Forest Service and Teton County, Wyoming officials about the significant fiscal and quality of life impacts on our residents, since we were first alerted to the expansion proposals in 2020.
I recently attended three Planning Commission meetings in Jackson along with other representatives from Teton County and Driggs, Idaho to reiterate these concerns and make specific requests for revenue sharing with Idaho, adequate housing mitigation in Idaho, proactive planning for emergencies like wildfires, and some sort of mandatory consultation with service providers in Idaho.
We are also trying to make sure Grand Targhee Resort is not released from their obligations to abide by the Teton County, Wyoming Land Development Regulation (LDRs) or their approved Resort Master Plan.
Grand Targhee’s first development application for 28 cabins in a “remote forested area” was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission in a 3-2 vote despite several missing pieces including a road impact fee calculation, a wildfire management plan, and a housing mitigation plan. In addition, legal justification for using the “administrative adjustment” tool to allow some of these cabins to be built on steep slopes (greater than 30 percent) was lacking.
This preliminary approval supports a consistent trend that vastly favors the developer’s wants over the community’s needs, perhaps because that community is in Idaho. From the beginning, decision makers in Jackson have been reluctant to involve Idaho leaders in negotiations to mitigate and compensate for the impacts on our community. For example, there is a requirement that Grand Targhee Resort pay a road impact fee for maintenance of the Wyoming portion of Ski Hill Road but not the Idaho portion.
The development application mentioned above that was submitted to Teton County, Wyo started the approval process for development on the 120 acres of private land at the base area.
Further expansion of the resort boundary and resort amenities on public land is dependent on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that the Caribou-Targhee National Forest requires for their decision making.
Grand Targhee’s consultant, SE Group (a ski industry specialist whose portfolio includes Deer Valley, Breckenridge, and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) is compiling the EIS documentation on behalf of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. It will likely be released for a 90-day public comment period this spring.
The EIS is a deep dive into the potential impacts of several alternatives including one that extends the resort permit area well south of the Colter Lift down into Teton Canyon (“South Bowl”) and Mill Creek (“Mono Trees”). These are areas my fellow Teton, Idaho County Commissioner Michael Whitfield, a trained biologist, refers to as “sacred ground.”
The Teton County, Idaho Board of County Commissioners submitted general comments during the scoping process associated with the resort’s proposed expansion on public land, and we plan to provide additional comments when the Draft EIS is released. We will also be tracking the application for the 28 luxury cabins on private land as it works its way to commissioners in Teton County, Wyoming in March.
Grand Targhee Resort development is no longer an if or a when. It has started. It is critical for you, as a community member and those who care about the future of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, to get involved to ensure your voice is heard.
To assist you with details of the proposals and how to effectively provide constructive comments, Teton County, Idaho will be hosting our second Town Hall meeting on the Grand Targhee expansion after the Draft EIS is released this spring.
We also encourage you to voice your concerns to the Teton County, Wyoming Commissioners (submit them at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org) before or during their March 7 public hearing, when they consider the application for 28 cabins.
This critical decision will set a precedent for all future development approvals in the base area. Letting Grand Targhee Resort off the hook on requirements outlined in the Resort Master Plan and associated Land Development Regulations (LDRs) to help them maximize their profit is not in the community’s best interest.
You can find more information on the applications by clicking here. If you would like to provide comments now or be included on our email list for updates on the Grand Targhee Resort expansion, please email us at: email@example.com