A Cheyenne district court judge is bothered by a state law requiring maximum financial return from school trust property in Teton County, a law that sparked a dispute over a glamping development near Teton Village.

State actions made him shake his head, Judge Steven Sharpe said Oct. 2 as he ticked off things that upset him about House Bill 162 – State Trust Lands Proposal and Study. Teton County claims the 2020 law is unconstitutional because it treats state land in Teton County dedicated to school funding differently from similar land in other Wyoming counties.

At issue is leasing and development on a high-value and scenic mile-square section near the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, including construction of a glamping operation of geodesic domes that Gov. Mark Gordon called “pimples on the landscape.” Teton County believes the development on school trust land violates lease terms set by the State Board of Land Commissioners, including that developments be temporary and comply with local regulations.

Yet when Teton County tried to enforce local regulations, the state sued the county, arguing that local government lacks the authority over state property, regardless of the lease terms.

Sharpe, the Cheyenne judge presiding over the suit against Teton County, said the state action “seems to be targeted at Teton County.” Wyoming’s top five elected officials, including Gordon, sit on the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners.

“Overall I have some concerns about the way the [State Board of Land Commissioners] handled this.”

Judge Steven Sharpe

Some of the development, which includes erection of container storage units, “appears to the court to be a long-term arrangement,” not temporary uses, Sharpe said. He seemed befuddled that the state said local regulations would apply to development but now wants the court to declare that they do not.

“All those things bother me a little bit,” Sharpe said. “Overall I have some concerns about the way the [State Board of Land Commissioners] handled this.”

Sharpe said he would rule on issues as time allows.

Bill unconstitutional?

To comply with the HB 162 law, the state land board approved several temporary-use-permit leases on the 640-acre Teton Village parcel. Developers Basecamp Hospitality began building a complex of 11 geodesic domes for glamping along with a leach field critics say is too close to open waters.

Basecamp is the principal worry, Teton County’s attorney Keith Gingery said, because it may further harm the Fish Creek watershed. Critics want the “hotel,” as Gingery called it, to meet fire and electric code and undergo local inspections.

Teton County tried to halt the development but Sharpe blocked that effort in June to first resolve the county’s ability to challenge the state. In that challenge, Gingery says HB 162 is clearly flawed because it violates the Wyoming Constitution that calls for uniformity in the treatment of state lands.

“That direction [in the HB 162 law] is unconstitutional,” he told the judge. It’s improper to “change the standard lease from fair-market value to maximum value” in one county alone, he said.

“This is where they were going to hope to balance the budget for the State of Wyoming,” Gingery said, by generating revenue from high land values. “We argue Teton County was targeted.”

Teton County also believes the state issued five-year temporary permits for uses that should have more stringent regulations and conditions required in longer-term permits.

“The state’s having to bring gas lines — boring underneath the state highway — [and also granting] lengthy easement to the power company,” Gingery said. “Clearly this is more than a temporary use — a hotel will be on this site and continue to operate,” he said.

“People [are] coming to stay at a hotel that we don’t know is safe.”

State officials don’t know what’s going on, Gingery said, and ignore their own lease terms, conditions and rules. County residents are frustrated.

“Cheyenne is a long way away,” he told the judge. “The state thinks things are happening up here” to make permit holders comply but “that’s not happening.”

State claims authority

State Assistant Attorney General Patrick Miller called HB 162 “a very simple bill … to do a study.”

The state’s action “doesn’t seem insidious,” he said. “We don’t believe Teton County was targeted.

“We’re dealing with state property,” Miller said. “The county is trying to stop the development in a way we think is unreasonable.”

Jim Peters, senior assistant attorney general for Wyoming, promised the judge “there will be future inspections.”

“There is an enforcement mechanism,” he said of ongoing safety worries. “The state has just as strong an interest that state lands are safe.”

Sharpe also is considering a request by Citizens for Responsible Use of State Lands, a nonprofit representing Teton County landowners, to join the suit.

“This is a case [that] the people who are actually affected ought to be part of,” attorney Bill Schwartz told the judge. Teton County cannot adequately represent citizens who formed the nonprofit, he said.

One reason is that Teton County uses the state land to stockpile gravel and flood-fighting riprap. “Mr. Gingery is not exactly in a very good position to argue the [temporary-use permits] are contrary to the Constitution when the county itself is taking advantage of them,” he said. Protect our Water Jackson Hole, another citizens’ nonprofit, also is contesting the Basecamp development.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. The question should be why aren’t they “requiring maximum financial return from school trust property ” in every county and piece of state land? Why are the stewards of our trust afraid to get the maximum return on our property? Of course, the answer is obvious, it might bring an end to the welfare subsidy to rich out of state “ranchers”. I’m sure there are individuals or organizations that would pay far more than the paltry AUM rate the state charges in places like Elk Mountain.

  2. The State of Wyoming failed to commission an independent, third party economic study addressing the economic contribution of a single undeveloped section of land in the grand teton National Monument and elk refuge. Such a study from a tourism promotion point of view, would have shown that each section of land proportionally was generating millions of dollars in tourism revenue yearly; that is, tourists are willing to outlay big bucks to see undeveloped land in the national monument and elk refuge. The tourism value of the school sections vastly exceeds the so called maximum economic return on the land the way the state is currently evaluating the land.

    Look at the Marton Ranch acquisition for comparison. Natrona County and the State were concerned about the reduction in property taxes amounting to less than $10,000 per year – and completely overlooking the huge increase in economic activity which expanded fishing recreation will generate on the 8.2 mile frontage on the North Platte. The additional recreation income will offset any other negatives by a factor of 100 to 1 or even 1000 to 1. The additional recreation income will amount to tens of millions of dollars per year. Same with the State sections near Jackson, their real value if evaluated from a tourism/recreation point of view is easily in the tens of millions of dollars PER YEAR!!! Tourists from urban areas want to see our wildlife and open spaces not storage units, housing units and subdivisions – they come here to get away from all of that urbanism.

    Clearly Cheyenne is looking at this matter from a jaded point of view and overlooking the real value in the State sections; that is, open, undeveloped land which appeals to the tourists visiting our state. How about letting the economic analysis experts at the University of Wyoming generating a realistic economic study which quantifies the value of undeveloped land in Jackson Hole from a tourism point of view. Example, the Corp of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation generate cost:benefit studies to see if the costs of new dams generate enough projected positive economic benefit that will offset the costs of the new project. These studies are commonly used elsewhere – why hasn’t Cheyenne commissioned a similar study???

    1. Excellent reasoning which is unfortunately scarce in state and local government which seems always ready to favor short term (private) gains for long term sustainable public enjoyment and environmental protections.

  3. Of course it is targeting Teton County. Most of the state dislikes/hates Teton County and is happy to destroy it, and this is not the only example, take the current threats to auction off prime habitat and viewshed with the 640 acre Kelly state parcel. Then after the mansions are constructed on that amazing site the rest of the state will complain about how Teton County billionaires are destroying Wyoming even though the rest of the state is responsible.

  4. The State Land and Investment board’s actions do not pass the smell test. What in the world are they thinking down there in Cheyenne?? It isn’t just this section of land – I understand they are seriously considering selling the other section of land on the east boundary of the elk refuge. Its almost as if they don’t understand the long history of protecting the Grand Teton National monument and the elk refuge; and that, the real value is in protected, undeveloped land which is what visitors to Wyoming want. The SLIB’s actions must be fiercely opposed in the courts and in the arena of public opinion and a clear message sent to Cheyenne to protect these unique lands.

    Its my understanding that in the past, The State of Wyoming traded high value State sections to the federal government in order to protect parks and high value property. There’s a large block of State sections north of Manville – probably 20-30- sections lying adjacent to each other – on the Reed Ranch – which supposedly were acquired in a trade with the federal government – the state may have gotten 10 sections of grazing land for each section in a high value area. The state cooperated with the Federal government in order to convey state sections to federal ownership. Selling, leasing, renting of school sections near Jackson is outrageous unless the state sections are sold/traded to the elk refuge or national monument. John D. Rockefeller would roll over in his grave if he knew what SLIB is doing. SLIB must be stopped.

    1. I doubt that Rockefeller is rolling over in his grave because he purchased the land which formed the Grand Teton National Park in 1930 by established a shell company called Snake River Land Co which then purchased valley ranches telling the landowners it would be preserved for conservation not the establishment of a National Park.

      Initially it was called the Grand Teton National Monument but was changed to Grand Teton National Park soon after it was passed by Congress.

      When the ranchers learned they were fooled they were not very happy. No, Rockefeller is not rolling over in his grave…he is smiling happily he was successful in pulling off his scam.

      BTW In Feb 24, 2015 — Approximately 1,366 acres of school trust lands were subsequently included within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park

      The Kelly controversy has be going for at least 40 years and I see no simple solutions to change that.

      Lastly, this new school land purchase controversy is not in GTNP or the National Elk Refuge

      1. The Kelly section is bordered by Grand Teton National Park on three sides, (N, W, S), and on the east side by the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Its rolling terrain, mostly higher on its east side and lower to the west, with a mix sagebrush and aspen habitat, with the flat valley floor and sharply rising Teton range to the west, make it visually stunning. Its location, low altitude, exposure to wind, and gentle ridges keep snow depths lower than occurs on other nearby terrain. Those features make it attractive to big game for both migration and winter range.