By on August 20, 2013
The mountain is on fire. Don’t let this mutha... burn. (Sargent Schutt)

The mountain is on fire. Don’t let this mutha… burn.
(Sargent Schutt)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The meeting started like it always does. Eagle Scouts paraded in front of proud parents and a gallery of stakeholders applauding politely while secretly hoping it’ll put the councilors in high enough spirits to pass its agenda item. Then, right on cue, the mayor butchered another surname.

“I’d like to welcome (pause) Lea (longer pause) Colasuonno to join our town attorney …” Only it sounded more like “Col$hkw*un#do.”

“How’d I do?” asked Mark Barron.

“Close,” the new assistant town attorney assured him.

The two high-fived to seal the deal and it was on to the opening act – a rambling and often off-point diatribe about the inefficiencies of pepper spray on bears from a public commenter named Chris Deile. Deile, from Silver City, NM, was addressing the council about a 1996 griz attack he survived in Alaska.

Deile told the esteemed panel pepper spray was nearly worthless and should not be promoted by area parks as the best line of defense against bear attack. He suggested the park hire trained Inuit guards armed with .454 Casull’s or sawed-off shotguns. Mayor Barron talked him away from the dais in the careful manner one coaxes a jumper off a window ledge and it was on to more important matters like a consent calendar filled again with temporary banner requests.

Can you hear me now?

Wireless providers are desperate to find locations where they can stash their towers. It’s no secret cell service has sucked this summer. Barron used the term “horrible.” AT&T approached the school board recently for permission to install a tower on school property and on Monday night the town electeds were being asked whether they wanted to sign off on a dish atop a light pole at the rodeo grounds.

No one was sure whether the town, county, or fair board could grant that kind of request so the mayor asked town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis – and boy was she grumpy.

“I did not write this lease and I don’t like this lease,” Cohen-Davis said of the contract between the town and county on the lease and use of the fairground land written up years ago by county legal eagle Keith Gingery. “If the fair board were to move forward on this they would need the town’s permission. There may be some disagreement with county. But I don’t know how this promotes Western culture.”

Some councilors worried about visual pollution once AT&T and Verizon dotted the landscape with enough towers to get around every hill and dale in Teton County. Jim Stanford took up Dr. Devra Davis’s cause and wondered whether we weren’t all cooking our brains with these things buzzing everywhere, including one dish slated to be shoved into the steeple at the Lutheran church in Rafter J.

The council’s pleasure was to make staff think about it some more.

 Million reasons to worry

Snow King wants the town to get in bed with them on a million dollar loan from the state that’ll get water and power to the top of the town hill.

Melissa Wittstruck, from the Conservation Alliance, didn’t like the idea. She worried the business plan wasn’t vetted enough and didn’t like the wasting of a precious resource like water.

Town administrator Bob McLaurin assured Wittstruck that water was in peak demand during July and August, not so much in winter. He also reminded everyone in the room that snow-making is fast becoming a secondary use of water on ski hills. “In the event of a fire, water on the mountain is invaluable,” McLaurin said. “In Sun Valley, they turned the snow guns on last week.” Everyone seemed psyched to co-sign on a million bucks. Don Frank even dropped a corny line that sounded like he’d stayed up all night practicing it in front of a mirror. “Let’s get this snow on the road,” he said.

Stanford pumped his brakes. “I think this is a great project with a lot of benefits. I should be the biggest cheerleader for this,” he said. “But I cannot look the taxpayers in the eye with a straight face considering the very stark financial position of Snow King Resort detailed in last week’s paper (referring to another paper, not this one, which he likely stopped reading two weeks ago). I don’t know if we’re in the front of the line or back of the line. I cannot hand a million dollars over without the assurance it will be paid back. I would like to see some kind of additional collateral. Simply owning [water] pipe is not enough.”

Ryan Stanley, representing Snow King Mountain Recreation, promised Stanford the estimated $4,000-a-month loan repayment plan would not be a terrible burden for the mountain and they had skin in the game to the tune of some $330,000 of private equity.

McLaurin clarified most of that was in-kind moneys, like plowing services and such but there was some $100k in cash SKMR was willing to put up.

All voted in favor but Stanford.

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