Last Saturday, April 28th, the Big Horn Hills Estates POA and the Island Park Preservation Coalition co-hosted an informational meeting about the proposed Idaho Transportation Department and Idaho Department of Fish Game Targhee Pass Project. The EMS building was standing room only. 118-125 people made up the audience. Information about the current status of the proposed ITD 5 project alternatives was presented. ITD says the no alternative has been chosen at this time.
The Big Horn Hills Estates POA addressed their perspective on the project and listed some of their concerns. They would be the most impacted population and homeowners being affected by the wildlife fencing and overpasses, if those alternatives are chosen by ITD. The proposed overpasses and wildlife fencing would impact their livability environment, right to use, landscape, and view scape. They have wildlife corridor concerns as an adjacent landowners and principally how “living behind and within this prison environment’ will affect their private property rights and property values.
Two aspects of a public information request were presented. This information revealed that ITD and IDFG had entered into a 2014 MOU as partnering state agencies to implement a Federal Highway Administration eco-system approach intending to meld infrastructure planning and improvements (highways) with conservation planning for multiple wildlife species and their habitat, migrations, and other requirements. The subsequent cooperative agreement to contract with Renee Seidler, formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society, as the IDFG transportation specialist for Hwy 20 was created to enhance this agreement.
The 2014-2015 MOU is a result of a series of Eco Logical workshops facilitated by the Langdon Group. The Langdon Group also authored the MOU and is the same company that is now facilitating the Targhee Pass Project. Eco Logical is available at this website: https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/env_initiatives/eco-logical/report/ecological.pdf Implementing Eco Logical in Idaho is a result of a grant application submitted by Gregg Servheen, IDFG state wildlife coordinator, and this grant was awarded as a Lead Adopter grant to both IDFG and ITD in 2013. Hwy 20 is to be a model for future cooperative planning for our entire state. That state plan is called I-Plan, developed by BioWest, in cooperation with ITD and the FHWA, wrote the current alternatives for the Targhee Pass Project, except for the community alternative that the community asked them to incorporate. BioWest is conducting the Environmental Assessment for the Targhee Pass Project. BioWest also hosted the P. Cramer wildlife study of Hwy 20 on their website before it was on the ITD TPP website. Bio West was involved in the mapping component of that study in 2016.
Members of ITD were in attendance at the meeting and answered many community questions. The main questions focused on the reduced speed limit request and wildlife fencing. A question about an alternative selection deadline was asked, and answered, as uncertain to this time. The selection could occur sometime this summer or early fall. The EA phase is now being completed. Some analysis is waiting on the disappearance of the snow. When that analysis is completed, there will be a report issued on the EA with a public comment period to follow.
Ralph Kincheloe of BHHE reported that he had been in contact with Idaho Senate Transportation Chairman, Senator Brackett. He has been consulting with him and reporting on information and research that is being compiled. He indicated that there will be a future meeting hosted by Senator Brackett coming in the near future, and the idea of seeking a legislative solution to this issue was introduced.
Also in attendance were IP Mayor Tom Jewel, who spoke about the Mayor’s, Fremont County Commissioner’s, and the FC Sheriff’s request for extended 45 zones that ITD has rejected. Commissioner Jordan Stoddard was with him and acknowledged unison with that request. State Representative, Karey Hanks, attended and spoke to her position against the investment of our state road and bridge money for such an expensive investment for 4 miles of Idaho highways. She reminded ITD that they who work for us. Rep. Van Burtenshaw, currently running for the ID Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Jeff Siddoway, Rod Furniss and Gerald Raymond, who are running for office as representatives in our legislative district, were also in attendance.
At the end of the 2 hour meeting, the consensus option of the audience was for ITD and FHWA to do the necessary road upgrades, lower and/or extend the current 45 speed zone at TP to address both human and wildlife safety, cut back the trees to increase driver and wildlife opportunity to recognize one another, quit using the de-icing salt solution during winter (which, in the words of one resident creates ‘one giant salt-lick’ of highway 20 and actually encourages the wildlife to the roadway), and increased driver awareness and wildlife movement signage (flashing-style), were a the solutions supported.
ITD stated that they were going to bring signs up for the spring migration but their signs are broken so they are making arrangements to rent some. Wildlife is being reported along the roadside on the Ashton Hill and near the known crossing locations near Harriman. It was noted that wildlife will soon be staging to cross near the Junction of 87 and TP, so they better hurry. If highway safety for animals is a primary concern for ITD we hope they noticed as they travelled home that there was one dead deer on the Ashton Hill and a dead elk near Harriman noted by travelers to the meeting.
Of note from audience comments made at the meeting, one resident did the math on his calculator after ITD answered a question about traffic volume on the highway. ITD stated that there are 9000 daily vehicles during the peak summer season and 5000 daily as a yearly average. There are about 20 wildlife deaths reported each over 5 years at Targhee Pass. The gentleman calculation the probability of a wildlife vehicle collision. He stated that the number was so small that his calculator had a hard time arriving at the ratio. (The probability of a vehicle hitting wildlife at Targhee Pass is about 1 in 500,000.)
While every wildlife death is unfortunate and no one wants to see that happen, the investment as a cost benefit analysis does not justify the 22-30 million dollar investment that is being proposed. Another comment from a part-time California and Idaho BHHE resident is that in California the wildlife fencing is now being taken down in many places because they are finding that it is actually stopping animal migrations and causing greater problems rather than a solution they had hoped for.
Maintenance questions about the structures and the fencing concerning snow load and snow removal were offered for consideration. It was offered that the fencing is $75-$85 per ft. Human access through the fencing would require swing gates; who patrols those gates? Elk and moose can jump a regular cattle guard, double cattle guards would be required at exit points. Possible electric mats and their relationship to animals and humans was talked about. Concern over the wetlands and Howard Creek were discussed. Human use and future restrictions were part of the discussion.
It was also offered that the requests for wildlife overpasses did not come from Fremont county or Island Park. Public records requested information shows that the comments were submitted by the campaign for safe wildlife overpasses sponsored by Y2Y and the GYC. They had the opportunity to front-load those comments to the ITIP process and ITD through their intimate involvement with the project, wildlife mapping and GIS data collection, and participation in the recommendation study conducted by P. Cramer.
While it was offered that people had equal opportunity to have commented, at the time they knew and were involved. The general public, however had not been informed. It was also offered that if the state agencies were collaborating with other partners they certainly had the burden to inform the county and the community of their activity and what it was intended to be achieved.
The day after our last public information workshop was held in Island Park, Aug 30, 2017, Renee Seidler sent an email to Karen Hiatt, Gregg Servheen, Eric Verner and Tim Cramer soliciting an ITD $200,000.00 match for a grant application she was completing. The attachment to the email was a final proposal application draft for the Great Migrations and Critical Wildlife Corridor federal program. The project being applied for was Targhee Pass. The project was to include 1 to 3 wildlife overpasses. It was confirmed that the FHWA had already committed $22 million dollars to the project, had overpass specifications, identified target species including (wolverine) circuit maps, stated that IDFG had identified the locations for wildlife overpasses and a map, animal movement maps, and priority habitat identification. The application asks for $200,000.00 to ‘round-out’ the costs associated with wildlife overpasses and states in red the portions of the application that need to stress the application is pre-decisional to address ITD’s concern.
The project start date is to be 7-1-2018 and the end date is 12-31-2021. Under the Permits and approvals portion are listed:
Letter of Support from Liz Davy, District Ranger, Caribou-Targhee National Forest
Later of Support USFWS Letter of Support from the Nature Conservancy
Letter of Support from the Wildlife Conservation Society
According to Karen Hiatt (ITD), Renee Seidler was told to withdraw the proposal.
Reprinted with permission from IP News
Making Sense of It All
This blog will help you make sense out of all the information on the website, how it affects IP, previous articles in the IP News, our history, and how efforts continue to put IP into various forms of conservation status.