Park County commissioners have penned a letter to Yellowstone National Park regarding possible construction on Fishing Bridge.
We previously reported the park was seeking comment on a possible construction project on 3.2 miles of road between Fishing Bridge and Indian Pond. The project wouldn’t start until 2018.
Comment is still open until May 26, 2017.
According to the Cody Enterprise, officials sent the letter Monday, broaching their concerns about how construction would affect the summer tourist season: “We would contend that any [road] closure can be avoided with well-planned construction practices. The same is true for delays.”
Specifically, the commissioners feared any closures or delays would deter tourists from traveling on the East Entrance Road. Commissioners also cited the season nature of Cody’s economy, with Commission chair Lee Livingston calling September “the new June.”
The letter comes a week after Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk spoke to the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce about the project. From the Enterprise:
When that bridge is closed, a visitor wishing to travel to Cody from inside Yellowstone would have to go north through Silver Gate and then head south, adding significantly to travel times. Commissioners fear those delays could keep visitors out of town and suck dollars out of the local economy.
Originally, Park officials had said they were scheduling construction-related closures and delays to begin no earlier than Sept. 15, 2018.
In the face of opposition from Cody businesses and officials, however, Wenk said Yellowstone hopes to avoid closures until at least mid-October of next year. Ultimately, the superintendent said the decision will rest with the Park’s regional office in Denver.
The language of the commissioners’ letter to Wenk is circumspect.
“We respectfully request that an in depth socioeconomic analysis be conducted within date specific parameters to address the potential economic impact [of construction closures or delays] to Cody and surrounding communities,” it states.
Commissioners’ language at their May 16 meeting was less subtle.
“The Park caved. They went back to Oct. 15,” commissioner Jake Fulkerson said.
“I’ll tell you what my take on that is – quite possibly they knew they were going to do that,” commission chair Lee Livingston said.
He suggested that the September proposal was just a decoy deployed for bargaining leverage.
“My concern is, I kind of feel like they were throwing a dog a bone in going to Oct. 15,” Livingston said.
With possible closures and delays still on the table for September 2018, Livingston said, “I believe we need to put some more pressure on them to do a more comprehensive economic analysis.”
The in-house economic impact study done by the Park Service found, “While construction workers would be spending time in the Park and surrounding areas, money spent on food and lodging would have a negligible effect on local economies.”
Commissioners scoffed at a perceived paucity of effort in that study.
Another commissioner, Joe Tilden, criticized the park’s closure/delay practice, citing anecdotal evidence from the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Tilden added they may pursue a “data-quality lawsuit” against the park.
Livingston was likewise critical but added “the last thing we want to see is [Fishing Bridge] fail.”