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Wyoming Gun Dealers: Don’t Lie Like Hunter Biden Because You’ll Get Caught

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Wyoming Gun Dealers: Don’t Lie Like Hunter Biden Because You’ll Get Caught


LARAMIE — Lying on a background check forms for firearms purchases is stupid and nearly impossible to get away with, some Wyoming gun dealers said Tuesday after Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, was convicted on federal charges of doing just that.

“They (the purchasers) check the boxes” on the form, and any attempted fibbing is likely to be caught right away when the dealer calls the FBI to verify the answers, Dave Smith, owner of Dave’s Guns in Laramie, told Cowboy State Daily.

As Smith and his store manager, Leo Perez, minded their shop Tuesday, a television on the wall was playing news footage of President Biden speaking at a rally for gun control advocates. That, even as news was breaking that his son had been convicted of falsely answering that he wasn’t addicted to illegal drugs on a background check form.

For their part, federally-licensed gun dealers are picky about how the forms are filled out, Smith said.

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“We try to follow everything to the exact letter of the federal law,” Smith said.

Scott Weber, owner of Gunrunner Firearms & Auctions in Cody and Ohio, told Cowboy State Daily no shenanigans are allowed when it comes to people filling out the forms in his shops.

“We watch the person fill out the form. You can’t say, ‘My reading glasses are in the truck, let me go fill this out in my truck,’” Weber said. “No. They start with a clean form, in front of us. And if they make any mistakes, they have to start over again.”

The Case Against Hunter Biden

A federal jury in Delaware convicted Hunter Biden of three felony charges related to his purchase and brief possession of a revolver that he bought from a Delaware gun shop in October 2018.

The first two charges stemmed from him lying on a background check form by checking question-response boxes on the form indicating that he was not using or addicted to illegal drugs. The third charge was for illegally possessing the gun while using or addicted to illicit drugs.

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The maximum penalties for those charges could include 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. However, as a first-time offender, Hunter Biden might get a lighter sentence.

A judge is expected to schedule a sentencing hearing in the case within the next 120 days.

Weber said he “wrote a lengthy memo” to his employees Tuesday highlighting Hunter Biden’s conviction an as example of why Form 4473, the background check form, is vital and so important to get right.

“I’ve been riveted to this case, because it applies directly to what we do every day,” he said.

Most Lies Caught Right Away

According to federal law, background check forms must be filled out for all firearms purchases from federally licensed gun dealers. It involves the buyer checking a series of “yes” or “no” boxes related to questions such as whether they’ve ever been convicted of a felony, renounced their American citizenship or are a fugitive from justice.

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Some find it humorous to be asked “are you a fugitive from justice?”

“People might laugh about that one. But if you are, and you say no, and then you’re caught later, they have that form and they can use that form against you, just like they did with Biden,” Weber said.

One the purchaser completes and signs the form, the dealer sends the information to the FBI and the response is usually quick, sometimes almost instant.

The dealer will get one of three responses, Weber said.

“Proceed” means it’s all clear and the dealer can proceed with completing the sale and handing the gun over to the buyer.

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“Delay” means there might be a waiting period of three to five days before the purchase can be cleared or denied.

And “deny” means just that, there can be no legal sale.

If that happens, then the seller’s neck is on the line if he or she decides to proceed with trying to buy a firearm.

‘Deny’

Weber and Smith say when they get “deny” responses from the FBI, they tell the buyer right away and refuse to proceed any further with the sale.

Smith said the FBI doesn’t offer any detailed explanation for a denial, but when a sale is denied, all he can do is tell the customer that they can appeal the rejection to the federal authorities if they wish, because the matter is out of his hands at that point.

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Most “deny” messages come right away.

Weber said he’s not sure how Hunter Biden’s lie slipped through, and the gun dealer in that case was sent a “proceed” message. It might have been because there weren’t yet any records in the FBI data base related the Biden’s drug use and addiction.

But even those who might temporarily fool the system shouldn’t assume they got away clean. A lie will eventually be found out one way or another, he said.

There are extremely rare instances in which the FBI will give a “proceed” response after an initial delay, but then change that to “deny” after the customer has already picked up the gun.

“I’ve had that happen to me,” he said. “They’ll ask you, ‘Would you like to retrieve the gun, or would you like us to send and agent to retrieve it?’”

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Weber said he’s OK with calling customers and see if they’re willing to return a firearm to the store themselves, but leaves door-knock recoveries up to federal agents.

Regulations Are Complex

Weber and Smith said that when a customer is denied on a background check, they keep the forms on file, just in case federal agents or prosecutors request those records later.

So far, none have, they said.

Smith said another layer of complication comes with the variation on gun regulations between states, Smith said. In Laramie, he gets his fair share of customers from Colorado, but typically won’t give firearms directly to residents of the Centennial State.

That’s because some firearms that are legal to sell in Wyoming aren’t legal in Colorado jurisdictions. Boulder has a ban on AR-15s and the like, for example.

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Instead, Smith will offer to ship a firearm to a gun shop in Colorado, where the customer will have to go through the background check process all over again before taking possession of the gun.

Smith said he can’t risk getting tangled up in the different regulations between states, which could potentially land him in hot water.

“We go by the federal regulations, and follow them,” he said.

The Right To Refuse

Perez said the background check system is largely effective in keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

But dealers also have leeway to deny sales they’re not comfortable with, he added.

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“As a private business, we have the right to refuse service to anyone,” Perez said.

Weber and Smith said that, for instance, they’ll flatly refuse to sell a gun to anybody who comes in smelling of liquor.

Smith added that he and Perez tell their employees they have the right to delay any sale, and defer it to them as the manager and owner of the shop.

“We instruct our employees that if they feel uncomfortable about a sale for any reason, they can deny it and ask that person to come to me or Leo,” he said.

Weber said licensed firearms dealers should act as gatekeepers.

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“We’re the first line of defense in keeping firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.



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A landslide in Wyoming deepens the disparities between the ultra-wealthy and local workers

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A landslide in Wyoming deepens the disparities between the ultra-wealthy and local workers


The collapse of a vital road connecting workers in Idaho to jobs in Wyoming is bringing new attention to a longstanding schism between the ultra-wealthy and the people who cater to them.

Billionaires and investors have been pushing home prices in Jackson, Wyoming, into the stratosphere for years, forcing workers to live further and further away from their jobs.

Already burdened by long commutes, people who work at hospitals, outfitters and landscaping companies now face an indefinite road closure that is upending their lives yet is unlikely to impact their wealthy clients.

What started as a crack in the Teton Pass last week turned into a massive landslide that closed a 10-mile stretch of road, which serves as a main gateway between Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming.

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Transportation officials said the “catastrophic failure” would take several months to repair. Meantime, a two-lane detour should be completed within weeks, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

The rush comes as the tourist high season gets underway in the Rocky Mountains, where some 15,000 people are expected to descend on nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks each day.

Closing the Teton Pass for even a few weeks means cutting off a vital artery for people who live in Idaho but work in Jackson, a mountain and ski haven that has become a playground for Hollywood celebrities, tech tycoons and billionaires looking to get away from city life.

“The landslide really shines a ton of light on how unsustainable our community is,” said Jacob Gore, a Wyoming native who lives in Idaho because of rising costs. “I just accepted that I will never own a home in Jackson unless I win the lottery.”

A damaged section of Teton Pass near Jackson, Wyo. (Wyoming Highway Patrol via AP)

A damaged section of Teton Pass near Jackson, Wyo. (Wyoming Highway Patrol via AP)

At St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, about 20% of health care workers commute from the Teton Valley on the other side of the pass. This includes 115 essential workers who need to be on site every day, according to hospital spokesperson Karen Connelly.

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Many of those workers face 12-hour shifts and cannot accommodate an additional four to six hours a day of driving time, Connelly told Teton County commissioners this week during a hearing.

On average, more than 2,500 people commute daily from Idaho to Jackson, which is located in the wealthiest county in the United States, with a median income of more than $108,000, compared to Teton County, Idaho, where the median income is $89,000, according to U.S. Census data.

Home prices between the neighboring counties vary exponentially. On the Wyoming side, the median home price is more than $3 million compared to about $800,000 in Idaho.

The allure of snow-capped mountain peaks and crystal clear lakes has long attracted both homesteaders and business leaders. Moguls like Ted Turner, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett each own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the West, and the federal government controls about 50% of land from Kansas to the Pacific Ocean.

Competition to build, own and rent is fierce in the most desirable areas, including gateway communities to national parks. Demand only increased during the pandemic, as remote workers sought to relocate.

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“We’re working our butts off so the billionaires can have nice gardens to look at in their vacation homes that they spend a few weeks in a year,” said Rory Nelson, who lives in Victor, Idaho, and owns a small gardening company in Jackson.

“It’s heartbreaking because this is my home,” he said, adding that he is now driving up to six hours a day because of the road closure.

Many people who live in communities like Victor and Driggs in the Teton Valley say they are now forced to choose between spending a full day in the car or finding temporary housing closer to work.

Idaho resident Gore runs a wildlife tour company and said he woke up to several missed calls from frantic clients and employees when news spread about the landslide. One tour guide, who lives in Driggs, opted to sleep in his car the night before an early morning outing rather than wake up at 3 a.m. to pick up his clients in Jackson at 6 a.m.

“If just one of these billionaires wanted to step in and help out, our community would change for the better,” he said. “But our workers aren’t thought of until their favorite restaurant closes.”

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Since the road closure, John Thomas Smaellie, a construction superintendent from Driggs, has been snaking his way south on Highway 33 into a neighboring valley and around a lake before turning north toward Jackson.

While he describes the two- to three-hour commute as “absolutely gorgeous,” Smaellie is missing crucial time away from his family. His 7-year-old daughter is the youngest rodeo princess in their town and requires hours of rehearsal and preparation before competitions, he said.

On Wednesday night, rather than help her get ready for an upcoming pageant, Smaellie was stuck on the road.

A sign on Highway 33 tells motorists the Teton Pass is closed on June 9, 2024 in Victor, Idaho. (Natalie Behring / Getty Images)A sign on Highway 33 tells motorists the Teton Pass is closed on June 9, 2024 in Victor, Idaho. (Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

A sign on Highway 33 tells motorists the Teton Pass is closed on June 9, 2024 in Victor, Idaho. (Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

“Is my job really worth missing these things?” he asked. “I know they’re going to have a temporary road, but is it going to last? Emotionally, it’s very taxing to be at work knowing that if I left right now I could be home in time.”

Smaellie, a fifth-generation Driggs resident, has watched prices in his hometown skyrocket as “billionaires drive out the millionaires” from Jackson, a popular refrain among locals.

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When he was young, Smaellie’s parents bought a home and other investment properties on their public school salaries, he said. Smaellie, however, is forced to rent even as gated communities are built around him.

For his workers, who earn between $60,000 and $70,000 a year, even renting is unaffordable. Six members of his crew share a two-bedroom apartment, he said.

Still, the idea of relocating his family outside the region is unfathomable.

“I would like my kids to see their father’s grave when I pass away,” he said. “I can go see my great-great-great grandfather’s grave in Tetonia. That is where my bitterness comes from.”

Like other regions that cater to luxury resorts, housing affordability in Jackson has been a problem for decades.

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In 2020, the county set the goal of housing 65% of workers within its limits. Currently the county is at roughly 60%, according to housing director April Norton.

“There is a recognition that without permanently protecting homes for local workers, we might run out of them,” she said.

Chase Putnam, who owns a fishing outfitter in Jackson, is opening his eight-person camper to anyone in need of temporary accommodations. He bristled when asked about the affordability crisis and accused county commissioners of not acting quickly enough to secure housing for workers.

“I can barely rub two dimes together and I’m the one stepping in?” he said.

When asked for comment, the Board of County Commissioners referred questions to the housing authority.

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“If there is political will, then certainly there are things to look at it,” Norton said of building more workforce housing. “But it comes down to politicians, so we’ll see what happens.”

On Wednesday, the commissioners approved an ordinance that will temporarily allow camping units and mobile homes in all zones until the road reopens. But because 97% of surrounding land is owned by the federal government, it will largely be up to private landowners to welcome people in need.

While any permanent housing solution is years away, local residents are stepping in to offer immediate help. Melissa Thomasma, who lives in Victor, Idaho, created a mutual aid Facebook group after the landslide.

The nearly 2,000-member account is filled with posts from people offering campers, carpools and even audiobook credits for the long commute.

“That’s such a core value of our community,” she said. “You lend a hand when you can.”

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Commuters Between Idaho And Jackson Are Giving Up The Drive And Taking The Bus

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Commuters Between Idaho And Jackson Are Giving Up The Drive And Taking The Bus


DRIGGS, Idaho — No surprise, but the Wyoming Department of Transportation is telling everyone to stay away from the torn-up road where Wyoming Highway 22 collapsed Saturday over Teton Pass.

Photos and drone footage distributed by WYDOT is all anyone gets to see of the break in the main arterial link between the wealthy enclave of Jackson, Wyoming, and thousands of the area’s workers who live in Idaho’s Teton Valley, because it’s too dangerous to get up close.

Except for a moose.

On Thursday, a floppy-eared moose was seen wandering back and forth on the border between Idaho and Wyoming at about 4:45 a.m., stepping first along Idaho State Route 33, then tapping one or two of its legs on Wyoming’s side on Highway 22.

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It then darted off into the dark hillside of the Targhee National Forest.

It wasn’t hard for the moose to sneak pass WYDOT’s closure gates. One was raised open. Cones were set up directing traffic to come on through.

No guards were anywhere to be seen, and also no vehicles. No one. Just the moose.

For people who need to get to work in Jackson from the tiny communities that dot SR 33 along Teton Valley’s main drag, they’ve also found an alternative to the mountain pass now apparently closed off to traffic because of what WYDOT has called a “catastrophic” failure.

It’s not as fast as a speedy moose’s sidestepping dance along the border, but these people have found a cushy ride for a commute that’s now many times longer than before. It’s a coach bus offered up by the city of Jackson’s Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit, or START. For $16, they get a roundtrip ride, and no eye-twitching from nerves rubbed raw by the bumper-to-bumper clogged highways.

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Sleepy-Eyes

Sho Saenz, who lives 12 minutes away to the north of the Driggs Transportation Center in rustic Tetonia, Idaho, slept an extra 30 minutes or so rather than rush to catch the START bus that departs at 5:10 a.m. She kissed her partner goodbye, who rushed to the earlier bus ride.

“I couldn’t do it. It was too early,” she said, adding that the 5:55 a.m. bus was tough enough to make.

“This is my first time taking the bus,” Saenz said. “I was commuting from Tetonia, and now the drive is two hours.”

Going back and forth to Jackson takes a half-tank of gas for a two-hour drive to her banking job at a Wells Fargo branch in Jackson’s Town Square.

“It’s cheaper to just ride on the bus,” she said.

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In the early dawn in Driggs before the bus arrives, the streets are barren. There’s no traffic at this time of day, which is unusual, say people who live in the area and are accustomed to seeing workers in Idaho dart through town to the Teton Pass.

There’s not even a place to buy a cup of coffee before 7:30 a.m.

The streets are empty because everyone is headed a different way.

They’re now rushing to drive more than 100 miles along five highways from Victor, Idaho, at the border with Wyoming to Jackson, and past the lush green pastures of Swan Valley, past the Palisades Reservoir and the crashing water from its hydroelectric dam, and past the cascading rapids of the Snake River.

This alternative route was developed after the 30-minute drive to Jackson was taken away from Idahoans by the landslide. Some might argue this is a better deal.

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  • The handful of passengers on the Start bus that traveled nearly 100-miles from Driggs, Idaho, to their jobs in Jackson, Wyoming, napped on Thursday after rushing to make the 5:50 a.m. departure. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Start bus driver Derek Dean is ready to begin his two-and-a-half-hour drive from Diggs, Idaho, to Jackson, Wyoming.
    Start bus driver Derek Dean is ready to begin his two-and-a-half-hour drive from Diggs, Idaho, to Jackson, Wyoming. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • At 5 a..m. on Thursday, one of the snow closure gates at the Idaho and Wyoming border was raised so that traffic could enter the closed road that had partially collapsed in a landslide last weekend. The Teton Pass arterial road connects Idaho’s Teton Valley and Jackson, Wyoming. No one from the Wyoming Department of Transportation was guarding the entrance to keep lookie-loos out while the road is repaired.
    At 5 a..m. on Thursday, one of the snow closure gates at the Idaho and Wyoming border was raised so that traffic could enter the closed road that had partially collapsed in a landslide last weekend. The Teton Pass arterial road connects Idaho’s Teton Valley and Jackson, Wyoming. No one from the Wyoming Department of Transportation was guarding the entrance to keep lookie-loos out while the road is repaired. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Just after 5 a.m. on Thursday, the town of Driggs, Idaho, was nearly a ghost town. It is normally packed with rush-hour traffic from Idaho’s Teton Valley headed over the Teton Pass to Jackson.
    Just after 5 a.m. on Thursday, the town of Driggs, Idaho, was nearly a ghost town. It is normally packed with rush-hour traffic from Idaho’s Teton Valley headed over the Teton Pass to Jackson. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Sho Saenz of Tetonia arrived at the Diggs, Idaho, transportation center at 4:50 a.m. to catch a bus over to Jackson, Wyoming.
    Sho Saenz of Tetonia arrived at the Diggs, Idaho, transportation center at 4:50 a.m. to catch a bus over to Jackson, Wyoming. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Kevin Dunnigan is an early riser. He made a breakfast, walked his dog and brewed a cup of coffee before heading out to the Driggs, Idaho, transportation center to make a nearly 100-mile trip to his job at the Jackson Hole Airport.
    Kevin Dunnigan is an early riser. He made a breakfast, walked his dog and brewed a cup of coffee before heading out to the Driggs, Idaho, transportation center to make a nearly 100-mile trip to his job at the Jackson Hole Airport. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Once the bus arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, after two hours and 45 minutes of traveling from Driggs, Idaho, passengers begin to depart at one of four bus stops in Jackson’s affluent downtown shopping district.
    Once the bus arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, after two hours and 45 minutes of traveling from Driggs, Idaho, passengers begin to depart at one of four bus stops in Jackson’s affluent downtown shopping district. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Once the bus arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, after two hours and 45 minutes of traveling from Driggs, Idaho, passengers begin to depart at one of four bus stops in Jackson’s affluent downtown shopping district.
    Once the bus arrives in Jackson, Wyoming, after two hours and 45 minutes of traveling from Driggs, Idaho, passengers begin to depart at one of four bus stops in Jackson’s affluent downtown shopping district. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • There are breathtaking views of the landscape to see along the drive from Driggs, Idaho, to Jackson, Wyoming.  Above, the Snake River weaves its way alongside Wyoming State Route 89 just east of Alpine, Wyoming.
    There are breathtaking views of the landscape to see along the drive from Driggs, Idaho, to Jackson, Wyoming. Above, the Snake River weaves its way alongside Wyoming State Route 89 just east of Alpine, Wyoming. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

It’s Complicated

Nonetheless, Idahoans are frustrated because their commute has become complicated.

More driving time, more hard-earned money spent on gas and more exhaustion from a long commute that has tripled or quadrupled in time depending on rush hour versus non-rush hour times.

Olivia Wilson may take the prize for one of the most difficult commutes.

She lives in Alta, Wyoming, with a population of 429. The town is located between Driggs and the Grand Targhee Resort and is about 5 miles east of the Idaho state line.

But she drives to Driggs to get to her Jackson job.

On Thursday, Wilson hopped on the START bus for a nearly 3-hour commute.

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“I’m supposed to be at work at 8, but I’m getting wo work at about 9,” said Wilson, who rolled out of bed at 4:45 a.m. to catch the bus. “My boss is very understanding. I’m not taking a lunch break, and that has worked out OK.”

Wilson works for the Teton County Fairgrounds office in Jackson, which runs the annual county fair.

“This road has always been bad. It’s a crazy week for everyone,” said Wilson, who has friends who live nearby making a commute to St. John’s Health in Jackson that is equally as difficult as hers’.

Reading A Book

“They’re paying more for gas,” said Wilson, who is a veteran bus rider.

She doesn’t mind the bus ride, and spent part of her morning commute James Herriot’s “The Lord God Made Them All,” a sequel of the popular “All Creatures Great and Small.”

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“It’s a beautiful drive,” said Wilson who looked up from her book briefly, then settled back into the novel.

The first signs of congestion emerged a few miles north of Alpine, where traffic came to a standstill. A man jogging on the side of Idaho State Route 26 — one of the five interconnected highways that people are taking to Jackson from Teton Valley — was at one point moving faster than the cars jammed up north of Alpine.

In Alpine, START bus driver Derek Dean pulled over at the KJ’s Super Store to let passengers stretch their legs, use the restroom or pick up a snack or cup of coffee.

“It’s just 5 or 10 minutes,” he admonished everyone.

Jenni Robles, who lives with her husband in Driggs, landed on the bus for the first time after thinking she weaned herself off over a year ago.

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But her Hyundai broke down in Wilson on Wednesday, which is about as far away as you can have a mechanical fail on the new commute.

Wilson is located just east of the landslide area on Highway 22 on Teton Pass.

“I suppose it didn’t like the long way around,” she quipped.

The couple, who normally carpool together, left the car in Wilson and will deal with how to get it repaired later.

Robles works as a day care teacher for the Teton County School District.

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Making Sense

Kevin Dunnigan, who works for the Jackson Hole Airport as a communications specialist, rose from bed at 4 a.m. Thursday, made a breakfast consisting of a fruit smoothie, toast with a thick spread of peanut butter and a cup of coffee.

He then walked the dog for 15 minutes, after which he packed up his laptop bag and drove over to the Driggs transportation center from Victor in about 5 minutes.

He’s taken the bus to work before, but Thursday was the first time since the main road between the Idaho and Wyoming communities was closed.

“I feel more productive on the bus than driving to work for over two hours,” said Dunnigan, who checked emails and other work assignments from his Wi-Fi-connected laptop on the bus. “To me, this makes sense.”

START Director Bruce Abel told Cowboy State Daily that his agency is meeting with officials with the Teton County Travel and Tourism Board on Thursday afternoon to discuss a recommendation to pick up the tab on all travel costs for people in Idaho who ride START buses to and from their jobs in Wyoming.

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“We are attempting to lessen the impact that workers are feeling from the SR 22 closure,” he said.

START and the county board are looking at setting aside $60,000 for the bus travel services for commuters in Teton Valley and Star Valley areas in Idaho.

“This will be implemented today,” Abel said.

Contact Pat Maio at pat@cowboystatedaily.com

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.

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There’s A Secret Road From Idaho To Jackson, But You’ll Probably Need A Jeep

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There’s A Secret Road From Idaho To Jackson, But You’ll Probably Need A Jeep


TETONIA, Idaho — There’s a secret route that people living in Idaho’s Teton Valley all know about as an alternate route over to the wealthy enclave of Jackson, Wyoming, to do their blue-collar work.

It’s called Reclamation Road, and some locals think it may be time to dust off — or grade with a heavy equipment scraper— this possible route for travel.

To get there, you have to drive 25 miles or so north of Tetonia, look for the Squirrel cemetery near Ashton, then head west on a dirt and gravel road. About half the trip to Ashton is possible at 70 mph. The rest goes about half those speeds — or slower.

But there’s no traffic. None. Only potato farms and silos.

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The road is rough over the Teton mountains and dumps drivers on U.S. Route 191 a dozen or so miles north of Jackson.

Google maps doesn’t work very well in this part of the Potato Belt. But now that the main artery that connects Jackson with its working-class communities in Idaho is out of commission, no other alternative seems out of the question for consideration.

Tyler Hamilton, owner of WreckerBoyz Towing in Driggs, Idaho, won’t go up to Reclamation Road anymore to fetch anyone because they are “tourists and people with RVs, and the cell service isn’t great.”

Everyone in Idaho’s tiny Teton Valley communities knows about Reclamation Road.

“Reclamation is nicknamed ‘Jeep Trail’ because it’s a little rough in spots,” said Tetonia resident Jim Beard.

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Even Jerry Anderson, the front desk clerk of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Victor — the first town outside of the Idaho and Wyoming border along Idaho State Route 33 — knows about Reclamation Road.

“I’m going up there on Friday to check it out,” said Anderson, whose hotel Tuesday lowered its $300-a-room charge to $220 to attract guests.

WYDOT’s Horse

The Wyoming Department of Transportation isn’t familiar with the Reclamation Road route because it is betting on a faster horse.

WYDOT’s alternative to a washed out Highway 22 over Teton Pass in Wyoming is the reason why everyone drives more than 100 miles along five highways of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Victor, Idaho, at the border with Wyoming to Jackson.

This alternative route was developed after the 30-minute drive to Jackson was taken away in a landslide from Idahoans, who are frustrated that their blue-collar pay is now complicated with a big commute.

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Highway 22’s loss in Wyoming is a crushing blow to Idahoans.

Tourism is feeling the slowdown on the Idaho side of the border, and pocketbooks are feeling lighter with the extra money everyone is paying for gasoline at the pump.

In Tetonia, the Sinclair station was charging $3.54 for a gallon of unleaded gas.

“I miss having tourists around here,” said Erica Black, manager of the gas station.

This time of year had brought long lines to the gas station, but now a fill-up is quick-in, quick-out, she said.

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Others are getting pinched financially by the fewer tourists in the valley as well.

“People living here have been impacted a lot by the Teton Pass closure,” said Zach Bennett, who runs the Teton Peaks Resort in Tetonia. “We’ve seen a lot of cancellations because everyone thinks there’s nothing to do here.”

Tempers also are beginning to flare.

  • A Wyoming Department of Transportation sign warns drivers to stop at the Wyoming and Idaho border due to the landslide that crippled Wyoming State Route 22 through the Teton Pass. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Idaho State Route 33 is the major thoroughfare that runs through the Potato Belt communities of Teutonia, Driggs and Victor. In the sign above, Idaho SR 32 is one of the roads that a driver would take in order to travel to Reclamation Road — still about another 25 miles away to the north.
    Idaho State Route 33 is the major thoroughfare that runs through the Potato Belt communities of Teutonia, Driggs and Victor. In the sign above, Idaho SR 32 is one of the roads that a driver would take in order to travel to Reclamation Road — still about another 25 miles away to the north. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jesse Fritsch, co-owner of Elements Building Specialties in Driggs, said she’s pushing a lot of work off because of the road being out to Jackson. “We’re definitely rescheduling things because of the landslide,” she said. “It’s added to our overall costs because we have to travel around the loop to get to Jackson.”
    Jesse Fritsch, co-owner of Elements Building Specialties in Driggs, said she’s pushing a lot of work off because of the road being out to Jackson. “We’re definitely rescheduling things because of the landslide,” she said. “It’s added to our overall costs because we have to travel around the loop to get to Jackson.” (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jerry Anderson, the front desk clerk of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Victor, Idaho, plans a trip Friday to check out Reclamation Road, a secret route from the Idaho’s Teton Valley to Jackson, Wyoming.
    Jerry Anderson, the front desk clerk of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Victor, Idaho, plans a trip Friday to check out Reclamation Road, a secret route from the Idaho’s Teton Valley to Jackson, Wyoming. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

Crashing Gates

At the Idaho-Wyoming border, WYDOT traffic electrician Bryce Clements drove up from Cokeville, Wyoming, to repair the closure gates because an unidentified driver rammed them.

“This is not typical in the summer months,” Clements said.

Earlier in the day, he repaired a closure gate in Wilson, Wyoming, to the east of the landslide when a distracted driver talking on a cellphone hit the gate.

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“I’m not sure what is going on,” he said. “This type of stuff happens in the winter.”

Sitting at a picnic table outside the Hot Diggity Dog food stand about a mile north of the Bennett’s Teton Peaks, a group of men were chewing the fat on the traffic mess.

Beard, Hank Hatch and Os Rigby wondered why WYDOT wasn’t helping out with the grading on the old Reclamation Road that runs up near Grassy Lake Dam in Wyoming by the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

“Hell, yes,” said Beard when asked whether WYDOT should get involved with improving the road to help the Idaho communities.

Reclamation Road — named after its owner, the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages power and water in the U.S. West — is about a 30-minute drive north of Tetonia over a labyrinth of paved and fine-dirt roads to just north of a tiny community called Squirrel.

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On the turnoff to Reclamation, there’s not much except for a dirt road, a collapsing wooden home from a bygone era and a silo.

“Over 25% of the people who live here, work there in Jackson,” Beard said. “No one can afford to live there, where people are paying a few thousands of dollars a month in rent.”

Thousands of people who work in Jackson but live in Idaho’s Teton Valley communities are seeing red over the extra driving time.

  • Above from left, Os Rigby, Hank Hatch and Jim Beard, ate hamburgers at a picnic table outside the Hot Diggity Dog food stand in Tetonia, Idaho, chewing the fat on the traffic mess in the Teton Valley. They wondered why WYDOT wasn’t helping out with the grading on the old Reclamation Road that runs up near Grassy Lake Dam in Wyoming by the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
    Above from left, Os Rigby, Hank Hatch and Jim Beard, ate hamburgers at a picnic table outside the Hot Diggity Dog food stand in Tetonia, Idaho, chewing the fat on the traffic mess in the Teton Valley. They wondered why WYDOT wasn’t helping out with the grading on the old Reclamation Road that runs up near Grassy Lake Dam in Wyoming by the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jerry Anderson, the front desk clerk of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Victor, Idaho, plans a trip Friday to check out Reclamation Road, a secret route from the Idaho’s Teton Valley to Jackson, Wyoming.
    Jerry Anderson, the front desk clerk of Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Victor, Idaho, plans a trip Friday to check out Reclamation Road, a secret route from the Idaho’s Teton Valley to Jackson, Wyoming. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • In Tetonia, Idaho, the Sinclair station was charging $3.54 for a gallon of unleaded gas. “I miss having tourists around here,” said Erica Black, manager of the gas station.
    In Tetonia, Idaho, the Sinclair station was charging $3.54 for a gallon of unleaded gas. “I miss having tourists around here,” said Erica Black, manager of the gas station. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Tyler Hamilton, owner of WreckerBoyz Towing, is pulling his hair out in the traffic from Driggs to Jackson. He’s hauling cars back and forth between the two towns at a higher price because of the time and expense of gasoline he’s now spending on the 100-mile trip.
    Tyler Hamilton, owner of WreckerBoyz Towing, is pulling his hair out in the traffic from Driggs to Jackson. He’s hauling cars back and forth between the two towns at a higher price because of the time and expense of gasoline he’s now spending on the 100-mile trip. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

Riding Buses

A START bus service run out of Jackson charges $16 for a roundtrip ticket to go from Driggs to Jackson, but that assumes an over two- to three-hour ride that begins at 5:10 a.m.

Commuters are arriving home as late as 8:30 p.m.

START Director Bruce Abel did not return phone calls seeking comment on the service.

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Gale Luna, a START supervisor, said there’s been a small uptick in ridership on the buses this week that are taking about three hours to travel from Driggs to Jackson.

“Call volumes from commuters about the service have gone up about 50% since the weekend,” he said.

With the tourism season typically in full swing this time of year, some residents like the light traffic through the Potato Belt.

“Traffic is definitely down,” said Brett Johnson, a manager of Walters Produce Inc., a potato processing operation that runs a lot of 18-wheeled trucks carrying potatoes.

“Most of the traffic was due to tourism,” he said.

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While the Potato Belt traffic along SR 33 is lighter than usual, the traffic picks up from Idaho Falls to Jackson.

Tow truck owner Hamilton is pulling his hair out in the traffic.

Traveling to Jackson wasn’t so bad when he left mid-morning Wednesday, but returning as the rush hour picked up around 3 p.m. took more than two-and-a-half hours, he said.

Related to the extra miles that he’s driving, Hamilton raised the price on towing a car from Driggs to Jackson from $375 to $525 with the same charge billed to customers who want cars hauled on a return trip.

“It’s my time and gas that I have to charge for,” Hamilton said.

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Jesse Fritsch, co-owner of Elements Building Specialties in Driggs, said she’s pushing a lot of work off because of the road being out to Jackson.

Her business sells appliances to new construction builders near Jackson.

“We’re definitely rescheduling things because of the landslide,” she said. “It’s added to our overall costs because we have to travel around the loop to get to Jackson.”

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.



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