Do you sometimes wonder, “Am I crazy, or is it the rest of the world?” Recent proceedings in Jackson Hole have left me pondering the logic of a valley seemingly bent on replacing majesty with mediocrity.
You see, in Jackson Hole, it’s now OK to build a golf course in the middle of a river. And not just some Casper Milquetoast river…a raging, brawling, ever changing, ass kickin’ river. The precedent has been set. By a unanimous 5-0 vote the Teton County Commissioners gave their blessings to this perversion when they recently approved the final development plan for the Canyon Club located in Snake River Canyon. Or, I should say, located in the Snake River.
Regrettably, the most egregious violations of common sense have been largely ignored. Allow me to reiterate. Despite the 70-odd conditions placed on the development, Teton County is still going to allow construction of golf holes within the naturally established boundaries of the Snake River. Additionally, several other holes are located too close to the river and lack proper setbacks designated by the county’s own regulations.
I have to say, I was surprised and more than a little bit mystified that the vote was unanimous. After more than two years of public process, and countless written and verbal comments by the citizenship indicating overwhelming opposition, we were unable to muster a single vote from the commissioners. It really makes you wonder.
Sure, the commissioners made the developers jump through numerous flaming hoops –like making sure the roof of the golf maintenance building was made of a non-reflective material. Real hard hitting stuff. (To be fair, there were some nice changes to the original plan – like the removal of three riverside homes.) And opponents still have pending legal action that may yet thwart the plans of the developers, but they are legal long shots and unlikely to succeed.
Much was made of how the public process was unfair to the developers. Much was also made of how unfair the project was to the river, its inhabitants, wildlife and river users. As it turns out, the cutthroat trout, bald eagles, and river users will have to hope for the best because Teton County couldn’t possibly conceive of treating millionaire investors unfairly.
The three eagle nests commonly associated with the Canyon Club project have the potential for producing six eaglets a year. US Fish & Wildlife has predicted that construction at the Canyon Club could result in the loss of all six potential eaglets this year alone. The developers have denied that this could happen and have repeatedly stated that no eagles will be lost at all. But so far this year, the eggs laid in the Dog Creek eagle nest, which should have hatched by now, have failed to do so. The Martin Creek nest has failed to produce any eggs at all while the Cabin Creek nest, the most productive in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, has produced one eaglet. It seems as though the developers assurances are as hollow as a campaign promise. Is the lack of eaglets due to the construction that began at the project site last year? Who knows, but it doesn’t seem to bode well for the future.
Despite noteworthy participation by the general public, one of the most appalling aspects of this whole mess was the silence of the vast majority of my fellow fishing guides who were largely MIA. Quite frankly, the apathy they, as a group, have shown makes me want to stick my finger down my throat. Maybe it’s the transient nature of this place, but I can’t believe they didn’t have the gumption to stand up and defend the river they supposedly love and definitely make a living on.
It seems as though it takes vast and far reaching national public opposition to a proposed development to stop it. Even then, critics must show that a given project extends far beyond the ordinary needs of society and is an obvious boondoggle with zero public benefit. When it comes to smaller local issues which require grassroots opposition the chances of stopping well financed developers begins to wither. It seems the best we can hope for are minor concessions that are then used by developers to show that they are indeed willing to compromise, while the greens are portrayed as unrelenting obstructionists.
Want to hear the punch line? Despite receiving approval for the project, Canyon Club has filed a lawsuit against Teton County in order to protect all of their legal rights. I wonder who will step up to protect the river.