Just for a moment, reflect on the reasons you moved to, or built in, Teton County Idaho. Fast forward just a few years and see that if the Grand Targhee expansion plans are approved, you may as well have moved to Breckenridge Colorado or Park City Utah. All that you sought—relative quiet, dark skies, small town living—it‘s all gone forever.
The U.S. Forest Service has now extended the comment period to the Grand Targhee Resort (GTR) expansion until October 12. That gives us all on the quiet side of the Tetons time to review and understand how actions by Teton County Wyoming and the Forest Service will affect our future.
Already Teton County Wyoming has approved extensive development at the base of GTR. This can be a mix of retail and lodging. In addition there are two “wings” of residential development. Those hundreds of units could be anything from single family homes to cabins, townhouses to condos. And it appears accessory dwelling units (ADUs) will also be allowed next to single family homes.
GTR is proposing a massive expansion of skiable acres, 7 new or reconfigured lifts, two full-service restaurants, and more. Perhaps the most telling line in the scoping document came in the narrative regarding the restaurant at the top of the Dreamcatcher lift. The document speaks to how the design of the building will “blend with the surrounding environment in sensitivity to viewsheds from the Teton National Park.” It appears to me that GTR doesn’t give a darn what the sight of the building and its lights mean for folks living in our valley. This seeming indifference to Teton Valley Idaho ought to get you to your pen and paper or computer to write a comment.
Here is my quick assessment of the reasons the Forest Service must turn down the vast majority of the GTR application.
During the day, we will first notice a sharp increase in construction and delivery vehicle traffic—on Highways 31, 33, Teton Pass and on Main Street and Ski Hill Road in Driggs. What do we do if the lines of idling vehicles at the traffic signal in Driggs get any longer? Will we build a circumferential around Driggs? The folks who live along Ski Hill Road and 2500 North can expect continual increases in noise, vibration, and degraded air quality. Bicycling on Ski Hill Road will be a thing of the past.
This summer we’ve seen what seems to be an increase in large jet traffic. With charter flights already allowed at our airport, surely an expansion by GTR will bring immense air traffic.
There are two issues in the area of housing. The first of course is where will all the new employees needed to support a resort the size of a Breckenridge live? Teton Valley is already suffering from the 200+ units of housing that are being used as short term rentals. Is Grand Targhee going to use the greatest portion of their approved 450 residential units to house these new employees? Doubtful. The requirements for numbers of affordable housing units is pitiful and unrealistic. GTRs’ Master Plan tells us what to expect. From Page 34—“All affordable housing may be constructed off-site in Victor or Driggs, Idaho.” Turn the page and you read “affordable housing be built outside of the cities” hence anywhere in the county.
Parking is an area of concern both on the mountain, and off. First, skiers can expect to start paying for parking. And lift ticket prices might begin to look like those at most Vail-owned resorts ($160-210). Second, the GTR Master Plan says park and ride lots should be built in Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia. Nothing about a park and ride lot in Alta Wyoming. It all falls on Teton County Idaho.
For those of you who enjoyed the Perseid meteor show in August, know that it might be your last if this expansion goes through. Imagine the lights, and I don’t care if they are downcast, from two mountain-top restaurants, 450 homes, and more retail, street lights? Kiss the Milky Way and our wonderful dark skies goodbye. And we should ask will wood-burning stoves not be allowed in the new development. Imagine the Grand Teton enshrouded in a smoke haze.
Perhaps a key clue to where all this is heading was the mention of the SE Group being a consultant to the Forest Service. We should all find this interesting, if not suspect, that SE Group has worked on Environmental Impact Statements for Breckenridge Ski Area and the Stowe Resort in Vermont. Both are owned by Vail Resorts. (Editor’s Note: The SE Group specializes in consulting ski resorts and its portfolio includes non-Vail resorts like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Deer Valley.) Let’s hope the history of the Gillett family with Vail does not predict who a future owner of an expanded Grand Targhee looks to be. But I’m betting it’s some group of billionaires. Write your letter to the Forest Service and copy our county commissioners.