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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. 

On Monday, Oct. 25, the Teton Board of County Commissioners approved a consulting contract not to exceed $49,500 for a socioeconomic analysis of the Grand Targhee expansion plan, after the board’s counterpart over the pass agreed to pay half the bill on Oct. 19.

The county put out a request for qualifications in July for an analysis that will supplement a socioeconomic study provided by the SE Group during the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s environmental impact statement process. The EIS, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, will weigh the possible impacts of proposed expansion and infrastructure upgrades on public land at Grand Targhee. However, the county commissioners were concerned that the SE Group’s analysis will focus only on the public land development and not on the already-approved private land improvements which will bring more amenities and residential units to the base area. With the RFQ they sought to better understand the possible spillover effects, including impacts on public services, housing, and increased worker shortage, from resort expansion across the state line.

Teton County, ID then asked Teton County, WY commissioners to help fund the project, and did not receive a concrete response; the Wyoming board wanted “time to first review the final scope of work and fees for services in order to more appropriately consider your request to participate,” according to a letter sent between the boards in August.

Teton County, ID chose a proposal submitted by ECONorthwest, a finance and planning consultant, on Aug. 18, but continued negotiating with partners and the firm to pay for the study. The Alta Solid Waste District, the small community’s representative body, stepped in with an offer of $4,000 in funding. It wasn’t until Oct. 19 that the Wyoming commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of paying half of the study, with a not-to-exceed amount of $24,400.

While a preliminary version of the SE Group’s socioeconomic analysis was expected to be ready in August, the firm, hired by Grand Targhee, has not yet finished the study.

Rob Marin, the community projects coordinator who has been tasked with representing the county’s interests in the EIS process, said that he had at first found the delays concerning but now sees them in a more positive light, because ECONorthwest’s analysis may be able to incorporate two other studies that are currently in the works: the 2020 Regional Housing Needs Assessment & Housing Nexus Study, and a 2020 traffic study by Jorgensen Engineering.

“We really want to take a look at Covid-influenced traffic numbers,” Marin said about the pending traffic study.

“We’re trying to make this as cooperative of a process as possible. We’d like to dovetail these studies and avoid a duplication of effort. SE Group has even said they would like to incorporate these findings into the draft EIS,” Marin continued.

The draft EIS is expected to come out sometime in early 2022, although the timeline has already been pushed back multiple times.

Marin said he would like the county and ECONorthwest to host public meetings in the future to brief the public and local officials on the issue, but he wants to wait until the third-party analysis comes out.

Soon after the county commissioners approved the contract, Marin had a kick-off meeting with the consultants. “That’s when we’ll start diving in in earnest,” he said before the meeting.