By on March 31, 2015

PROPSFistbumpThe cowboy rides away

News of the death of Mason Tibbs is hard to swallow. Tibbs was a true cowboy legend. I had always heard he was a nephew or some distant relative to the famed rodeo cowboy Casey Tibbs. He never talked about it, really.

I rode, worked and drank alongside Tibbs on many occasions. He was a one-of-a-kind waddie with the mustache to prove it. Tibbs rode for the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association for a few seasons, looking after cows on the open range and keeping them from the jaws of wolves and grizzlies. He drove heavy machinery for Evans, “caretaked” at Crescent H, and, most recently, worked at the transfer station. He was a talented cowboy poet as well.

I remember the time Mason and I saddled up one spring near Kelly. We crossed the Gros Ventre on frisky mounts with four or five dogs in tow. We failed to recognize we were on Elk Refuge property, or at least were keen to turn a blind eye to the fact. We came upon rack after rack of magnificent elk antler sheds. We made note of where they were to return and gather them. Then we found a dead bald eagle, his feathers scattered about. Mason dismounted and stuck one of the feathers in his hat.

Later, we noticed a group of horseback riders far off in the distance.

“I don’t know where we are,” Mason said. “We might be on the Refuge. Let’s go ask them if they know where we are.”

040115propsmasontibbsWe lit out for that bunch at a full gallop. When we skidded up to the group, their horses shied and jigged, and everyone seemed quite perturbed. Yes, we were on the Refuge and, no, we were not allowed to be there. Not on horses and certainly not with dogs.

“Well then my next question is probably answered,” Mason said. “We were going to ask if we could come back with a four-wheeler and collect the sheds we found near the river. There was too much to carry a-horseback.”

“You two clowns go back and trailer your horses and report to my office,” said the lead rider, his face reddening with composed rage. It was Refuge manager Barry Reiswig, now retired, who was leading a group of sightseers. “I’m trusting you on your honor to show up.”

We reported to the office, tails between our legs, for the undressing we knew was coming. Better to just take our licks, we thought, and throw ourselves on the mercy of the court.

Reiswig let us have it, saying, “we should have known better,” and, “what kind of imbeciles would think it’s alright to ride roughshod all over the Elk Refuge.” He asked for the location of the antlers and exactly where we were. When we explained the area, Reiswig turned another shade of scarlet.

“That area is a highly sensitive eagle nesting zone,” Reiswig blurted. “There is to be no human presence in there whatsoever. We are not even allowed to go in there. We’ve been monitoring one banded eagle in particular that nests in there.”

“Not anymore,” Mason said, slowly removing the feather from his hat and tucking it in his back pocket.

We got off with a warning.

Adios, amigo. Vaya con Dios.

DISSTongueGrave Grove overrun DISS

The budget overrun on the Grove Affordable Housing Project is embarrassing. Building costs are forever on the rise but how the Teton County Housing Authority botched this one is hard to imagine. A reported 36 percent increase in construction costs along with another $1 million jump in site expenses and a $2 million spreadsheet error all sound like sloppy accounting by the housing authority.

Is this why Christine Walker bolted from the authority, leaving Stacy Stoker to mop up the mess? Walker continues to stay involved, saying she wants to see the project through, but she and the rest of the staff at the housing authority need to explain to electeds and the public exactly how they’ve put themselves into this jam.

The cost of steel is often a driving factor in why construction budgets get blown but it’s hard to believe the economy has recovered significantly enough to warrant a 36 percent escalation in fewer than three years. Globally, steel prices have climbed out of the funk the recession put them in. John Anton, manager of IHS Steel Service, told My Purchasing Center that an approximately $500 billion annual spend rate pre-recession fell to about $330 billion, and now it’s up to about $410 billion.

Treasurer Donna Bauer said the authority wasn’t being deceptive with their numbers, just unrealistic. A formula was flawed. It’s not surprising to believe the authority wanted to paint a rosy picture of its biggest project to date but a pipe dream doesn’t house worker bees and neither will the Grove this summer.

“I shouldn’t have to go home and review your math,” commissioner Barb Allen said. The 68 units that could provide homes for 100 people or more are unlikely to be on the ground when they’re needed most.

Tim Rieser, a retired builder has been outspoken in his criticism of the debacle. He’s not alone. Rebidding seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Finishing phases II and III will probably have to be done at any cost. Nobody wins. Combined with the expense of fixing Budge Drive and the recently cancelled Hill Climb, it feels like Jackson Hole has fallen out of favor with the forces that have always helped make this a charmed community.

About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.


  1. Horror Show

    April 3, 2015 at 7:06 am

    Barb Allen didn’t need to do any math. The commissioners failed to ask if the cost per square foot was a market reality or they failed to ask an independent authority.

    Putting all the blame on Walker seems misguided since more than one person is responsible for overseeing the expenditure of public funds. The buck stops with the electeds. Either way, the cost overrun isn’t an overrun so much as a correction. This is what housing costs to build in Jackson. Any premium over standard square footage costs is minor – we waste that much money all the time. What did the home ranch bathrooms cost? How much do we spend on Parks & Rec? The horror is that the government didn’t have a clue back when it was approved.

    The government should not be subsidizing housing for the employees of private employers. Private employers can build their own housing or get out of business. The government may be responsible for much of the high housing costs and low wages in Teton County (unless you’re a full-time government employee) but by building employee housing they distort the natural factors that limit growth. Their actions just lead to the need for more housing, more low-wage jobs, more social services, and more unbalances in the economy.

    When do the subsidies end? Private employers want subsidized labor (J-1 student visa workers who cost much less than Americans). They want subsidized housing for employees. They want subsidized flights for trust funders flying into Jackson. They want subsidized advertising through the Lodging Tax. They want taxpayers to subsidize their employees’ child care & health care. They want subsidized buses. They want subsidized everything so that their employees aren’t demanding more from them – just demanding more from the government. Either we start asking visitors & locals to start paying for the true costs of goods and services or we will forever be looking for, and dishing out, subsidies. That is not the role of government. Even the Town & County have their hands out to the state & feds. All these rich people living in Jackson and yet we go competing against truly poor communities for handouts from Uncle Sam and the State.

    Sure, who wants to be Vail? Or Telluride? All their employees living outside of town. “No community character.” As it stands, we are Vail & Telluride. Jackson is the outlining community supporting the West Bank. Teton Village is Vail. The idea that Jackson won’t become like Park City or any other resort community is silly. It will and it is. Jackson employees can & do live elsewhere like Alpine & Victor. The idea that everyone must live in Jackson is misguided. It’s an idea supported by those who want a subsidized lifestyle. Want to live in Jackson? Get an education, get a good job, earn some money, and buy a house.

    Investing 18 million over 50 years in the S&P 500 would probably offer a greater return on tax dollars than all the tax dollars that employees housed in this project might generate over 50 years. And, yes, of course, these are your tax dollars and most were generated by the labor of low-wage workers so feel free to demand some benefits for yourself – like higher wages and better benefits. The tax dollars are needed for basic government services, not housing.

  2. Dale

    April 4, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    With only 20 rental units at the Grove, this hardly looks like the type of housing that would make a dent in the needs of low-wage hospitality workers. We’ll probably never build public housing for the 90-day-wonders – something cheap to move into and quick to get out of. It’s why tents, cars, sofas, and ten people packed in a room are popular housing options. Why are we building 48 subsidized condos for sale? Condos & single-family homes for a special group of lottery winners are a huge waste of money. Maybe that’s how they get the math to work but it seems shortsighted and, at worst, wrong in principle.

    People who can afford to buy a subsidized condo at the Grove can also afford the Blair Apartments. And they can move to Victor or Alpine for better housing options. Why the sense of entitlement? Why the welfare? All these people are getting a handout to live in Jackson. They are truly blessed. Who wouldn’t love a handout to live in Aspen, Maui, Martha’s Vineyard, or anywhere? Where do I sign up? Think of the poor fools still living in the slummy hoods of Los Angeles. If only they knew how good the subsidized life could be.

    If you won’t live in Jackson without a handout, you don’t belong in Wyoming. Please leave. Plenty of newly minted, and experienced, teachers are begging to work in Teton County without a housing subsidy. Of course, too many seem to want one once they settle in. Employers, or their J-1 visa agents, usually set aside housing for immigrants and make it difficult for Americans to get a foothold in the community so I can appreciate the frustration and effort it takes for Americans to crack the housing market. Those who make it are rewarded with a very special place to live. And, if you’re lucky, you too can play the handout game after illegally car camping for the first few years.

    What would it take for the private sector to build apartments for the working class? 5-story buildings? Tax breaks, Free land? Maybe not. The JHMR used its own money to build their employee dorms and they are leasing out extra units to other businesses. Of course, dorms mostly cater to seasonal visitors instead of community members but that’s the JHMR’s business model. Building apartments for community members using a collective of private partners should be easy. Maybe those apartments don’t get built because that’s not our future, or the government is too quick to subsidize the private sector.

    The way things have been going, building 500 dorm rooms at the Grove for immigrants is our future. And the train tunnel to Victor looks better every day.

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