THE BUZZ: Moose-Wilson Road Hogs

By on November 24, 2015

Plans for contentious corridor are being placed under the microscope.

Public safety has not been an issue on the heavily-used stretch of Park road. Only 3.8 vehicular accidents, on average, are recorded annually. Cyclist accidents are also rare. (Photo: NPS)

Public safety has not been an issue on the heavily-used stretch of Park road. Only 3.8 vehicular accidents, on average, are recorded annually. Cyclist accidents are also rare. (Photo: NPS)

Jackson, WY – The Park Service did its homework. Of that, most are in agreement. In preparing the colossal 694-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Moose-Wilson Corridor, NPS officials left no stone unturned. Dozens of government agencies, 23 Native American Indian tribes, and 118 organizations and businesses were consulted in the process of revamping the 10,300 acres of riparian habitat along the 7-mile long, 4-mile wide connector road from Moose to Teton Village.

Federal managers looked at everything – from obvious impacts to wildlife and public safety to obscure details such as how climate change and night sky pollution could be affected. The report even included a 1/3 octave, 24-hour spectrogram, which measured ambient noise 100 feet from the road on a typical summer day (July 1, 2013).

Franz Camenzend, a noted wildlife biologist and environmental activist who has lately been heading an ad hoc watchdog called Friends of the Moose-Wilson Corridor, said it was the most comprehensive EIS he’s seen in 40 years in the business.

The next step is another public comment period, scheduled to run through the end of the year, but NPS officials agreed to extend that until January 15, 2016, after hearing feedback that too many people are busy with the holiday season. The Park Service laid out four courses of action for the Moose-Wilson Road. Its preferred alternative highlighted by a quota system that would cap the total number of vehicles on the 7.1-mile stretch of road to 200 maximum at any given time. It would be one-out, one-in at both the north and south entrances to the road when that cap was in effect.

The process has been relatively quick – it began with a public scoping period in December 2013 – and fairly transparent. That transparency was threatened, however, when confusion over a secretive meeting slated for Monday was closed to the public.

The Planet managed to infiltrate the meeting via phone conference in an effort to keep its readers ever informed.

Meeting Highlights

Governor Matt Mead opened the meeting by acknowledging there had been some confusion over whether the charrette was open to the public. He did note “a reporter had driven there all the way from Jackson.”

Jerimiah L. Rieman, the governor’s natural resource policy director, voluntarily threw himself under the bus on that note, saying, “It was my idea to call the meeting. I apologize for no one knowing what the meeting agenda was. It created a situation that doesn’t need to exist. I’ll take that on my shoulders.”

Both Mead and Rieman said the purpose of the meeting was to review the process, not necessarily any problems the governor’s office had with the preferred alternative proposed by the Park Service, though they did have some issues with it.

“At the end of the day we may agree or disagree with your decision, but we understand it’s you guys [NPS] who are going to decide what is the right way to go about this,” Mead said. “Listening to all these various agencies involved and making sure everyone is heard is some heavy lifting, and everyone has different points of view, but you get one chance to get it right.”

Mead thanked the Park Service for the open and cooperative way they have handled the process thus far.

Rieman said the governor’s office was a bit frustrated, though, when the Park Service met in December 2014 with local government agencies in Jackson, sharing public feedback and eventually proposing its preferred Alternative C plan in January. “We weren’t given that information until July,” Rieman complained.

Rieman stressed that the state and other cooperatives wanted a chance to get in the Park Service’s ear after the latest round of public comment but before the ink dried on a final draft headed for Washington.

“I do think we can do better. All of us,” Rieman said. “We understand that the federal agency was ultimate responsibility for making the final decision. We do not hold it over anyone’s head or are trying to tell you what to do. But additional engagement from all of us hopefully provides for an opportunity to support the final decision, but at the very least, to understand how you got there if we don’t.”

GTNP superintendent Dave Vela said he greatly appreciated all the input his agency received, especially that from Teton County commissioners. He said he’s received more than 3,000 public comments so far and agreed to extend the current public comment period for an additional 17 days to mid-January.

“I know in Teton County and in the community of Jackson, they take a great interest in this as does the rest of the country and the world,” Mead said. “Truly the process is working whether we like or dislike the end result.”

Commissioner Paul Vogelheim said his board has applied some pressure on the Park Service to keep things moving. “We are anxious to see the process come to a conclusion,” he said.

Special interest groups were represented solely by Jerry Blann, who made the trip to speak on behalf of the Teton Village Association. Blann said his organization was omitted from the input process as an official cooperator. “We are in close proximity and have more to gain and stand more to lose, as well as have more to offer in terms of some of the solutions,” he said.

“We think transit can pay a critical role,” Blann noted, referring to Alternative C’s nixing of a bike path or allowance for mass transit. “Two primary issues are access and safety. We are also very concerned about the 200 number. Honestly, we would like to understand better how that number was derived. There is a better way to protect the resource and not turning people back to drive 60 miles around. And I’ll stick my neck out here and offer private sources in Teton Village that I think will step up to protect that kind of scenario. We would be more than happy to pitch in.”

Teton County engineer Sean O’Malley offered some advice on integrating his department in the process. “As an engineer, I’m used to solving problems,” he said.

“And politicians like to create them,” Mead joked in reply.

“Yes, well, Alternative C could use some improving,” O’Malley said.

Mayor Sara Flitner and councilman Jim Stanford spoke only long enough to thank everyone on their openness and cooperative efforts, as did commissioner Barb Allen.

Town of Jackson administrator Bob McLaurin introduced himself via phone conference to which Mead replied, “Every time I see you I resist the urge to ask about the slide.”

“It’s still moving, Governor,” McLaurin responded.

Mead closed the meeting by saying, “If we are dropping the ball, you know where we live. We are open to suggestions coming our way. And, Jerry, we know how important this is to you. You’ve made it clear to anyone within earshot of you. Supervisor Vela, we will pledge from this office to be a meaningful cooperator.” PJH

SIDEBAR:

Quick Glance

The Moose-Wilson corridor covers about 10,300 acres in a strip 7 miles long and 4 miles wide. The majority is paved (5.7 miles), with an unpaved dirt/gravel portion (1.4 miles).

The narrow, winding road provides “back door” access to the south end of Grand Teton National Park and a rustic, slow-driving experience for visitors looking for exceptional scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. Some residents and visitors also use the road as a shortcut between Wyoming Route 390 and destinations within and beyond the park.

AVERAGE DAILY VEHICLE USE

Change 2006 2007 2008 2013 %

July 1,668 1,740 1,870 2,094 +26%

August 1,616 1,695 1,770 2,102 +30%

September 1,110 1,267 1,355 1,772 +60%

Estimated wait times under Alternative C during approximately 25 heaviest use summer days range from a few minutes to 20 minutes. Average wait time based on July 6, 2013 usage was estimated at 9 minutes and 26 seconds.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

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