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teton county commissioners

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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Teton Commissioners Reverse Course, Approve WYDOT Employee Housing Request

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The Teton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a Wyoming Department of Transportation request for a zoning change that will allow the department to build employee housing on its land in Jackson.

The agency has proposed building 28 residential units on its 14.4-acre site to house highway patrol troopers, snowplow drivers and other staff in the Hog Island area to better serve the community. Currently, more than half of the department’s 36 employees live outside Teton County due to high housing costs and a lack of vacancies, according to department Director Luke Reiner.

WYDOT’s zoning request was initially rejected unanimously by the Teton County’s planning commission in December. Among the concerns voiced by the commission were the fact that the Hog Island neighborhood is currently in the midst of being rezoned. Without knowing what impact those zoning changes might have, commissioners said they were hesitant to make a decision on WYDOT’s request.

In an earlier interview with Cowboy State Daily, Chris Neubecker, director of planning and building services for Teton County, said that the commission also had concerns about traffic and water quality as well as the size and scope of the project.

Speaking to the board on Tuesday morning, Keith Compton, WYDOT district engineer, reiterated the advantage that on-site housing would have in recruiting and retaining employees.

He also noted the housing would address some safety concerns stemming from having so many department employees live outside the county.

Compton pointed specifically to the nine highway troopers for the area, only one of whom lives in Teton County. The rest live in communities such as Afton and Victor, Idaho, despite statewide policy that requires employees to live within 10 miles of their duty station. 

Teton is the one county in the state, Compton said, where the department has had to modify those rules to stretch the boundaries to accommodate troopers living beyond that 10-mile limit.

“This creates problems for troopers in terms of after-hours response in Teton County,” he said. “Response times (now are) about an hour-and-a-half on a good day and roughly two hours in bad weather depending upon which troopers are called out.”

Having workers in-county, he added, would improve those response times of troopers and snowplow drivers to arrive at accident scenes quickly to help victims in vehicle accidents and also prevent further crashed by more quickly clearing the roadways from debris and other hazards.

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