Lame ducks and polluted streams – recapping Monday’s JIM

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The town council and county commission batted .333 at yesterday’s Joint Information Meeting—deciding on one action item, kicking another down the road, and barely acknowledging a third and perhaps most crucial agenda item.

After spending an hour and a half of the two-hour meeting exploring every minute detail of the updates to the Housing Standards regarding New Special Restriction Templates. Much of that digression involved worrisome speculation over loan default scenarios and which national lenders might just snatch a home right out of the inventory of the Housing Department should a homeowner become unable to make mortgage payments.

Lame duck stir fry

The second agenda item to modify ground leases at Redmond Street Rentals was to fine tune ‘who gets what for how much?’ When it was suggested that the item be postponed until new town and county electeds were seated after the new year, commissioner Paul Vogelheim objected.

“I’m very disappointed,” Vogelheim said. “I was there from the beginning, as all of us where, and I would like to be able to see this through. There has not been an explanation provided as to why this is being asked to be continued. I’m very disappointed we will not hear this today or take the time to decide on it before the end of the year.”

Waiting until 2019 would also change the composition of both boards. In the case of town council, outgoing councilor Don Frank wondered aloud whether the town would be able to decide on any matter pertaining to the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, who is the developer of the project.

Frank pondered, “You’ll have Jim Stanford, who’s a beneficiary of the Housing Trust [Stanford lives in an affordable house provided by the Housing Trust]. Mayor Muldoon, a beneficiary of the Housing Trust [Muldoon recently received a rental unit at Redmond Street]. You’ll have Arne Jorgensen, who’s an emeritus member of the [Housing Trust] board.

“My question to you,” Frank asked his peers, “is how are you going to secure impartial votes with public monies of this magnitude when you have three members whose lifestyles from a housing security standpoint are directly related to the Housing Trust?”

Muldoon asserted he would check in with legal counsel before weighing in on any matters and would recuse himself if he had to.

Frank reminded the everyone of the financial magnitude of stewarding public funds devoted to Redmond Street Rentals. “And now we are looking at a renegotiation of agreements that have already been made,” he added.

“I think Councilman Frank’s comment is important. If we have three recusals on the town council, that leaves the council in a little bit of a lurch,” said BCC chair Mark Newcomb, who then called the matter to a vote since the agenda item already out of time for the day.

It was agreed the town and county would squeeze in a special meeting on December 20 at 1:30pm, even though the month of December is extremely busy for both boards.

Livestreaming nutrient pollution

With just 10 minutes left in the JIM, John Culbertson was called forward to explain just why it was such a dire situation that we are polluting our streams throughout the county.

Culbertson has done an enormous amount of work looking into the matter of nutrient pollution in area streams as president of Friends of Fish Creek and a partner in JH Clean Water Coalition. Culbertson helped form Friends of Fish Creek four years ago to address West Bank water problems, but said it became evident about a year ago the problem was more widespread.

“How do we know we have a big nutrient problem? Scientists have done lots of testing but I know it from seeing the algae in the streams. Old-timers from 25 years ago told us there didn’t used to be any algae in the streams, then it started,” Culbertson said, addressing town and county leaders. “I know backcountry streams. I know what they look like without algae. We’ve got a significant algae problem.”

The only source of algae is excess nutrients. Around here it comes from residential lawn fertilizers, livestock operations, and septic systems. Elevated nutrient levels in ground water can have an effect on drinking water. In addition, algae, when it gets bad enough, can choke out fish spawning activity and negatively affect other plant life.

“The easiest to address is probably lawn fertilizer. Most people don’t realize they are a contributor, and when confronted with the issue usually agree the harm caused is not worth the immaculate lawn,” Culbertson said. “There are steps they can take—switch to slow-release fertilizer, mow higher, water less.”

Culbertson said he didn’t yet know much about how cattle ranches were contributing to the problem but is currently digging into it with the cooperation of the Snake River Ranch.

“The big kahuna is septic systems. Septic systems, while they do a pretty good job of removing a lot of bad stuff, they don’t remove any nitrogen,” Culbertson declared. “We are convinced that septic systems on the valley floor are a major factor in our nutrient problem.

“Right now, there is no regulation on the books for septic systems and we know there are some very old, non-functioning septic systems out there and they are a disaster.”

The easiest solution, Culbertson said, was to get everyone on septic hooked into the municipal sewer system. He admitted it would be a monumental task involving a single joint powers board of some kind. Funding could be obtained through SPET, grants, state bonds, and other options.

Culbertson’s time was cut short. The brief presentation was ended with no action taken.

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