Grand Targhee (GTR) has announced that they have scaled back the South Bowl project to one lift. In a letter that I sent to the USFS, thirty two co-signatories to my letter, all season ticket holders at GTR, expressed opposition to any lifts in the So. Bowl area which is important to wildlife and is iconic viewshed. One lift would mean noise impacts from avalanche control . This would also result in unsafe avalanche conditions for skiers and snowboarders approaching from below. Any lift would be visible from several of the most popular trails on the west side of the Tetons.
GTR has announced on their website and in the Teton Valley News that the Peaked Lift, approved in 1994 as a quad lift, will now be a Doppelmayr detachable six-passenger chair lift. A Freedom of Information Act Request from the USFS found in a Supplemental Information Report (SIR) for the Peaked Lift dated June 6, 2017 states “the chairlift would be installed as either a fixed-grip four-place with the future option to convert to a detachable, or will be installed as a detachable four-place chairlift”. Nowhere in the document is there any mention of a six-person chairlift. GTR does not have approval to install a six-person chairlift.
The above discrepancy implies 2 possibilities. First is the unlikely possibility that GTR got some unofficial approval for this 6 passenger lift from the USFS, and the USFS should not be having “private dealings” with GTR outside of public scrutiny. More likely is that GTR expects some formal approval in the future. The perception of covert operations is fertile ground for distrust and misinformation in the community.
During the USFS scoping last summer and fall, there was no mention of prior approvals at GTR. When the Peaked Lift was approved in the 1994 ROD, three other lifts were approved on Peaked Mt. Only one of these, Sacajawea, has been built. Teton County, Wyoming has approved 450 lodging units and single family homes on private land at the base of GTR. There has also been 645,000 sq. feet of commercial building and resort amenities approved but not yet built. Many members of the public who responded to the scoping were unaware of these prior approvals. It seems obvious that when the public responded to the scoping they were not appropriately and intelligently informed.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. NEPA is often called the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws. I have been told by folks knowledgable about NEPA that consideration of cumulative impacts by the USFS depends on whether or not this GTR EIS follows the new rules or the old rules which were changed under the Trump administration. Ignoring cumulative impacts represents a disregard for the spirit of NEPA.
Because of the pandemic there have been no public meetings. There is widespread perception in this community that this EIS process has lacked transparency. At no time has Mr. Gillet presented his plans to the general public.
Many public health experts expect an upturn in covid cases in the fall because of low vaccine rates in Idaho and Wyoming and schools reopening. It would be most appropriate for the USFS to schedule public meetings this summer before the DEIS is released. There needs to be an open discussion of comfortable carrying capacity for Grand Targhee Resort. This carrying capacity should consider regional two-lane roads and public shuttles, parking, need for additional search and rescue, EMS, police, hospital capacity, waste management, and employee housing. Grand Targhee had increased visitation last season which may have been due to their participation in the Mountain Collective. If Grand Targhee released these Mountain Collective numbers, it might show that their purpose and need to compete with neighboring ski resorts could be fulfilled without expanding beyond their special use area.
The USFS is to be commended for announcing that a draft EIS will not be released till 2022. Analysis of 50 elements in an EIS including fly line, snowmaking, new lifts, ski runs, and restaurants, zip line, night skiing, lift re-alignment, and roads could not be done in a short time. The Targhee Forest Plan of 1997 would need to be amended if the special use area were enlarged.
The USFS’s reputation could be boosted by having public meetings with invitations to elected officials of Teton County, Wyoming and Idaho to participate. The USFS could restore some of our community’s faith in the EIS process if the USFS considered only development proposals within the existing SUA. In my previous participations with EIS processes at Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, the USFS did not analyze projects proposed outside of the SUA. More information is available at www.savetetoncanyon.org.