Normalcy Returns as State of Emergency Expires

By on February 13, 2017


Happily blinded by the light—skiers and snowboarders await the opening of the tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Monday morning. (Photo: Jess Farr)

JACKSON HOLE, WY — A Teton County state of emergency expired Monday signaling an official rebound for residents and businesses in Teton Village and surrounding areas. After its first multi-day closure since 1986, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reopened with deep snow Monday morning, and START bus is running all its regular routes again.

Reporting daily losses in the millions, Teton Village businesses decidedly took a major hit during a five-day shut down in the middle of winter. The adversity of the past week, however, also illuminated the coordinated efforts of several valley organizations.

At a meeting Monday morning, Teton County commissioners praised the organizations that restored function to power lines and roads after ferocious winds knocked down 17 steel electrical poles, resulting in the multi-day outage at Teton Village, Jackson Hole Airport and multiple neighborhoods served by the Crystal Springs electrical substation. Meanwhile, road closures due to avalanches hampered valley access for Jackson’s commuting workforce, as heavy rain replaced high winds, which led to flooding and avalanches around the valley.

Commissioner Mark Newcomb recognized Lower Valley Energy and the five other utilities from the surrounding region that brought crews and equipment. “They spent huge hours around the clock on getting those lines back up,” Newcomb said at the meeting. “It’s a very complicated job and highly technical. I’m personally blown away at how well it went given the weather conditions.”

Commissioners also praised a number of other organizations for their resolute efforts, including Wyoming Department of Transportation, Teton County Fire Department/EMS, Teton Village Fire Department, and Teton County emergency management coordinator Rich Ochs and his crew of staff and volunteers. Ochs was responsible for coordinating the disaster response of myriad agencies and businesses.

“I think last week’s incident could have been a lot more severe,” Ochs told PJH. “We had many agencies that came together. If we didn’t have that network in place it would have taken longer.”

Ochs said Lower Valley Energy drew upon its network of rural co-ops and other energy providers to hurriedly replace the 17 steel transmission poles with approximately 26 wooden poles.

The storm’s aftermath highlighted why having a network in place before a natural disaster is key, Ochs said. Hours of behind the scenes planning, he explained, happens every year that the average citizen is probably not aware of. Ochs coordinates meetings and training exercises involving 60 to 70 local entities, including Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Teton Village Association, Lower Valley Energy, the American Red Cross, Jackson Hole Airport, the Chamber of Commerce, the Travel and Tourism board, Teton Village Fire Department, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Teton County Public Health, and county commissioners.

The fact that these organizations and businesses knew each other and had practiced what to do in an emergency together was instrumental last week. Ochs said more than one person from the network told him response efforts reminded them of a specific exercise Ochs led in April 2016 on how to respond to a major power outage.

“The big thing you get out of an exercise like that is you realize who all the major players are,” he said. “We don’t just have to think about the power company. It’s also the businesses, and the people on medical devices, and others who are impacted. Those are the relationships we built.”

Things to keep in mind

Responders were still tackling the storm’s ramifications Saturday, addressing a propane leak near Hoback Junction after a snow plow severed off the top of a buried underground liquid petroleum gas tank, according to a press release issued Monday by Jackson Hole Fire/EMS. No one was home in the two nearby residences while volunteers from the Hoback fire station attended to the hazardous leak, noted fire marshal Kathy Clay. Crews had to return 20 minutes later, however, after the first plug failed and involve more responders to finally resolve the leak.

Clay advised that people with buried propane tanks ensure they are marked with a tall stake. She also recommended digging out area hydrants with a 3-foot clearance for quick emergency access. Clay reported that many residents have also discovered damaged vent pipes and stove pipes from heavy snow sliding off roofs. Homeowners, she urged, should closely inspect their pipes.

A small flooding incident on Fall Creek Road Monday was also a reminder of last week’s chaos. Ochs anticipates minor flooding going into spring (unless another major rain-on-snow event occurs).

—Meg Daly and Robyn Vincent


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Sometimes it takes a village.

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