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County commissioners Mike Whitfield (of Idaho) and Luther Propst (of Wyoming) hike toward the South Bowl area of Teton Canyon during an educational event hosted by regional conservation organizations on July 21. Expansion into South Bowl is one element of Grand Targhee's proposed master development plan. 

Commissioners from both Teton Counties convened on Monday for a rare joint meeting to discuss the Grand Targhee Resort expansion plans. While nothing was decided at the meeting, most of the commissioners expressed a willingness to host some kind of public information event later this year on the proposed projects at the Alta ski hill.

Development is proposed both on private land and public land at the resort, which means many agencies are invested in the process.

Grand Targhee has a resort master plan, first approved in 2008 by Teton County, Wyoming, that lays out more amenities on the private land at the base of the ski area. The county requires the resort to mitigate its impact as development happens by providing employee housing, funding public transportation, and contributing to conservation efforts.

Meanwhile, on public land, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is currently undergoing the environmental impact statement process for Grand Targhee’s master development plan in its special use permit area. The EIS, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, will weigh the possible impacts of proposed on-mountain expansion and development.

Teton County, Idaho is concerned that the downstream impacts of those cumulative projects are not being weighed in the EIS process. That’s why the county put out a request for proposals for a third party consultant to review the forthcoming socioeconomic analysis (one facet of the EIS study) and fill possible holes in the data through its own research, and wrote a letter to Teton County, Wyoming asking for more cooperation and input, and possibly funding for the analysis.

The commissioners met remotely on July 19 in an effort to get on the same page.

County GIS manager Rob Marin, who is Teton County, Idaho’s representative in the EIS interdisciplinary team, explained to the assembled commissioners the need for a separate analysis: “The Forest Service has indicated to us that just saying, ‘hey, we know a bigger Targhee will affect housing prices and labor supply,’ doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. We need to put some solid numbers behind it.”

Marin said that different agencies are reviewing or have reviewed the different plans with different processes, and that the two plans are not being considered as connected actions.

“For me, this is a no-brainer,” said Wyoming commissioner Luther Propst about the analysis after hearing the Idaho representatives present their case. “For me, it’s essential that we have a more comprehensive understanding of the cumulative impacts, both because of our obligation as a county to manage development on private land but also our obligation as a county being a cooperating agency under NEPA, under the National Forest Planning Act.”

Wyoming commission chair Natalia Macker reminded her fellow board members that no action would be taken during the meeting; they will discuss it at a future meeting as an action item.

The Idaho commissioners also suggested to Wyoming that the counties might hold a town hall where Grand Targhee and the Forest Service could each present about the proposals and the EIS process, then members of the community on both sides of the state line could ask questions.

“People need to be heard from in a manner that can be part of the analysis, not post-draft EIS, because at that point, the train’s on the tracks,” said Idaho commissioner Mike Whitfield about holding a town hall.

After being pushed back several times, the release date for the draft EIS is now expected to come in early 2022. After that, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the document, which will present several different alternatives including full build-out and no action.