Teton County Judges, Sheriff Worried About Courthouse Collapsing & Killing People In Earthquake

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

If a major earthquake were to hit Teton County, the local courthouse would likely not survive the impact, county judges and the sheriff recently told the county’s board of commissioners.

A letter signed by all of the officials housed the Teton County Courthouse, including two judges, court clerks and the county sheriff, called on the Teton County Board of Commissioners to act “immediately” to ensure the safety of the courthouse’s occupants, the sheriff’s office and the public.

“The seismic study performed on the courthouse concludes that the building was not originally designed, detailed or constructed to account for seismic effects,” said the letter delivered to commissioners on June 27. “This is of great concern. It not only poses a potentially catastrophic health and safety risk to the building’s occupants, it presents a serious risk to the continuity of our county’s essential governmental services.”

Seth Wittke, a seismologist with the Wyoming State Geological Survey, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that anecdotally, he could not recall an earthquake that caused damage in Wyoming in the nearly 25 years he has lived in the state.

“You can expect to see some damage to buildings when an earthquake is about a 5.5 magnitude, and that will likely be minor damage,” Wittke said. “People can feel an earthquake on the surface when the magnitude is around 2.5.”

Wittke said that for the month of May, the WSGS recorded around 20 earthquakes in Teton County, although most were not felt by humans.

The courthouse was built between 1966 and 1968 and last received major renovations in the mid-1990s

“The bottom line is if we have a considerable seismic event, the Teton County Courthouse is at risk of collapse and could significantly injure or kill its occupants,” the letter said.

The courthouse officials also pointed out that plans were underway at some point to construct security upgrades at the courthouse, but it was found the building could not support the added weight of the improvements, so the idea was scrapped.

The judges, clerks and officers recommended that the courthouse be torn down and a new one erected. In the interim, a temporary structure could be built to house the Teton County Sheriff’s Office and court offices, along with a small courtroom for most proceedings.

The Teton County Board of Commissioners did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment, nor did the officials who signed the letter to the board.

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