Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann is “very concerned” with a proposal to limit traffic on a road in Grand Teton National Park near the resort, he told Gov. Matt Mead on Monday.
Proposed Park Service restrictions for an 8-mile section of the Moose-Wilson Road have not been explained to his satisfaction, Blann told the governor and Grand Teton Superintendent David Vela. Grand Teton has proposed limiting traffic to 200 vehicles at a time, holding the overflow in queues at two entrance stations. The, narrow, winding road runs north from Teton Village, into Grand Teton National Park and to Moose.
The three met in Cheyenne where Mead sought assurances that the state and other “cooperating agencies” would be given due consideration in further planning. Elected officials from Teton County and Jackson were invited. Blann represented the Teton Village Association tax district and switched hats mid-meeting to speak for the Mountain Resort.
“We also are very concerned about the 200 number,” Blann said. “We’d like to understand better how that number was arrived at. It does protect the resource. Is that what it’s about?”
Curtailing traffic and not having a safe bicycle route on the narrow, winding road would impact Teton Village, home of the Mountain Resort ski area. Off-season business at the hotels there has grown in recent years and the village now advertises itself as a summer gateway to the adjacent national park.
But officials at Grand Teton are worried about too much traffic in the fragile Moose-Wilson setting. They have spent years addressing the issue and released the traffic-limiting plan earlier this fall.
Mead called the meeting to talk about the process Grand Teton used to develop its plan. His natural resource policy advisor Jerimiah Rieman complained that Grand Teton proposed its plan to Park Service superiors in January but didn’t tell the state until July.
“Certainly that provides frustration,” Rieman said.
When Mead learned the plan called for limiting traffic, he asked Vela to change the draft environmental impact statement so it did not identify a preferred alternative. The Park Service rejected that suggestion.
“NPS standard practice … is to identify a preferred alternative … unless one truly does not exist or when some other law prohibits the expression of a preference,” Park Service Intermountain Regional Director Sue Masica wrote at the time. (See her letter below.)
Village people have expertise
The Teton Village Association tax district is the closest governmental agency to the Moose-Wilson Road, Blann said. “We have more to gain, more to lose and more to offer.”
Village businesses have worked to reduce traffic on highway 390, which feeds into the park byway, Blann said. Among other things, businesses, including the Mountain Resort, offer workers bus passes and give parking-fee breaks for high-occupancy vehicles.
“We’ve put people on busses,” Blann said. The association is dedicated to access and safety on the Moose-Wilson Road he said, “free and safe access … as well as a bike path.”
He suggested instead of queuing cars at an entrance station, they might be redirected to the village and occupants put on buses. Buses, especially ones with bicycle racks, could get cyclists to safe paths beyond the Moose-Wilson Road if no path is built. Private companies could participate, he said.
Blann worried about paving a gravel section and what effect that might have on cyclists if no bike path is constructed. TVA is also worried about cars idling in a holding line.
Vela said Grand Teton had taken advantage of cooperating agencies’ input. Teton County commissioners suggested adaptive management strategies, for example, he said.
“This is reflected throughout this document,” Vela said. “If we can do this better, it’s in our interest to do so. We’ll continue to be sensitive.”
If Wyoming, the Mountain Resort and TVA felt left out of park decision-making, others did not.
“We feel like we’ve been engaged,” Teton County Commissioner Paul Vogelheim said. Added Jackson Town Council member Jim Stanford, “they’ve engaged the public every step of the way.”
Cloud of secrecy?
Monday’s meeting was cordial, but convened in a cloud of secrecy and worry. Several people were told they could not attend. Teton County Commissioners heard complaints Monday that the public was being locked out and the Park Service outnumbered.
The Cheyenne meeting came on the heels of Wyoming’s “F” grade in an open-government test by the Center for Public Integrity. The grade was based on a review of the state’s open meetings and public records laws, among other things.
“To me this looks like a taking-the-park-to-the-woodshed meeting,” Becky Woods told commissioners, who said they understood the gathering was closed. “It looks bad,” Woods said. “My perception can be totally wrong, but it is out there that it is a stacked meeting.”
Rieman apologized for any action “that has created a lot of anxiety and angst.”
Ultimately Wyoming Tribune Eagle photographer Blaine McCartney, alerted by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, showed up at the Capitol and was allowed into the meeting. In Jackson, interested citizens listened around public officials’ speaker-phone connections.
Rieman asked for more time to comment on the park’s plan — until the end of January. Vela said he’d published a Federal Register notice extending the comment deadline 17 days beyond the Dec. 29 deadline.
Regional director Masica said Wyoming, cooperating agencies and the Park Service would meet after public comments on the draft plan are received. “We’re truly committed to that,” she said.
Mead suggested that only by considering all the experts’ information will the Park Service know it has come up with the best result. “You sort of get one chance to get it right,” he said.
The governor also recognized the significance of the issue, despite the diminutive nature of the road. “We know how important this is to you – not just to the village and the businesses in the village but the Kemmerers [owners of the Mountain Resort] and … the valley,” he told the group.