Dems, GOP are split on Snake user fees
Candidates say rules, fees are likely to wait for public input.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 31, 2012
Melissa Turley and Claire Fuller, both of whom are running for Teton County Board of Commissioners, support some kind of fee for commercial boaters floating the Snake River between Wilson and South Park.
The two Democratic candidates said regulations on the stretch of river should include some way to pay for improvements and maintenance at the two boat launches.
Their Republican rivals, incumbent Paul Perry and Barbara Allen, take a different approach: Perry calls for limited government involvement and cooperation among users; Allen says more work must be done to understand who is using the river before imposing rules.
County officials are trying to collect opinions from river users and other citizens as they ready an application to take over several riverfront parcels from the federal Bureau of Land Management. The county is one of several agencies poised to take over land from the BLM.
Commissioners expect to submit a formal application this winter, including management plans for the properties.
Turley, a consultant for nonprofits and sitting town councilor, touted a commercial fee of some sort.
Paying it forward
“The commercial users who are profiting from that portion of the river should pay it forward so the recreational and natural resources are available for future generations to enjoy as well,” she said in an email.
Fuller, a third-generation resident who helps manage her family’s ranch, was the only candidate besides Turley to offer specific suggestions for regulations for river users. There are no regulations governing traffic and use today.
The Democratic candidate outlined several considerations that she said have to be part of any new regulations. Most important, new rules on the river would have to preserve public, noncommercial access.
Rules should cap commercial access in a way that’s equitable to all commercial companies regardless of their size. They also should balance new activities that might result from new development, including the new park near the Wilson boat launch.
Auctioning commercial access through an open bidding process could be one way to “create an even playing field for larger, established business and smaller, startup river companies, as well as producing revenue to help offset the costs of regulation,” she said.
“Regulation will help us maintain river access for both public and commercial use and help us do so in a way that exemplifies the river experience we want to have ourselves and share with our tourists — a relaxing and scenic float, not a Disneylandesque conveyor belt ride,” she said.
All four candidates said they want to see some kind of regulation implemented. Exactly what those regulations are, however, should wait for the public process that is just now getting off the ground.
A public meeting is scheduled next week to discuss plans for the river and unveil some of the management proposals that have been submitted.
“The task for our community will be to build on the great work done by groups like the Snake River Fund, the outfitting community, parks and rec and the public users to figure out what the resource can carry before that fine line is crosses and to come up with a plan that achieves the primary goal of resource conservation with balanced use,” Allen said.
Wait for public input
Allen, a real estate broker and vice president of Trout Unlimited, said that without the public input process, “it is impossible to make a call as to what management plan will best achieve our goals.”
For Perry, regulations will have to be put in place on the river to manage growing use and more infrastructure. The ideal situation, however, won’t rely on heavy county involvement, he said.
“Commercial and private users will need to work together in conjunction with the county to find the balance that works with both user groups, and it will be in the river users’ best interest to solve a majority of the issues on their own and keep the county’s role to a minimum,” Perry said. An incumbent commissioner, he is owner of Canvas Unlimited.
On Tuesday, voters will pick two of the candidates to serve on the commission. Perry is running for his first full term — he was appointed in 2010 to replace Leland Christensen when Christensen won a spot in the state Senate.
Incumbant Commissioner Andy Schwartz is not seeking another term on the commission.