Trouble at BYU-I Outdoor Center at Badger Creek
TETONIA — The Outdoor Center run by Brigham Young University-Idaho has received a violation notice from the county following numerous complaints about noise from neighbors.
“This has been going on for four or five years, since BYU took over Ricks college and started ramping up the program,” said Mike Romanzi, a neighbor to the outdoor center. “It’s just like having a small factory. It more than doubles the population of Tetonia.”
Romanzi is not alone.
“The music on Thursday night—I can hear it inside my house,” said Gene Morandi, another neighbor in the Badger Creek area. “I’ve been trying to get them to stop that… I want it to go back to the way it was.”
Both Romanzi and Morandi say the Center used to cater to 40-50 kids at a time, mostly university students, who were only there four or five days a week. Now, especially in the summer, the Center caters to hundreds of kids between the ages of 13-17.
The letter sent by the Teton County Planning Department reflects this change in their reasoning for issuing a violation notice.
“The transition from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho ( a four year university) in 2000 triggered a change in occupancy,” explains the letter. “Additionally, the property is now utilized by individuals who are not students at BYU-Idaho. This change in occupancy has increased impacts on land use, traffic, noise generation, and parking.”
But BYU-Idaho’s manager for the Outdoor Center, Jason Thornton, disputes this.
“From the time in 1979 to the present day we haven’t really changed anything at all in terms of how we provide experiences for students to grow and learn,” he said. “That’s always been to invite members of the public to the facility so that students could benefit from that.”
Thornton added that the university checked with the county about the growth of their program.
“Since 1979, there’s no doubt that we have grown and developed our program,” said Thornton. “But… we had a meeting with the county in June of 2015. In that meeting the representative from the county had stated that we are under no restrictions for growth. There’s no noise ordinance in the area that we are at, at all. We were confident that were making sure we were doing the right thing.”
In the face of complaints, the Center has added that they want to be neighborly.
“We have two families that live on site as well, so we’re very conscientious about how much noise and traffic we produce,” said Thornton. “We always make sure that they’re comfortable and by default that means everyone else around us should be comfortable as well.
Thornton said that the Center is spending considerable money to move equipment, like their giant swing and eventually the ropes course, from the front of the property, near the road, further back.
Neighbors say this is likely to do little to help.
“It’s like a stadium, the ambient noise still travels over. The kids are loud, what can you say,” said Romanzi.
Romanzi and other neighbors say they requested that the Center do the only thing they can to reduce noise, reduce the number of visitors.
But they say the Center refused.
“There’s nothing we can do about it unless the county steps in,” said Romanzi.
And now the county has, it is unclear what can be done, other than prevent the Center from getting permits to remodel some cabins on the property.
“We had no idea that we were in violation of anything until we went to get a [building] permit,” said Thornton. “We have 10 cabins that hold 8 people each. 80 can fit during a night. We weren’t going to expand them, but we wanted to replace them with similar sized facilities. We started that process by going to the county to get a permit went to the county about that, which is when we found out about the violation.”
Meanwhile, the neighbors on Badger Creek are getting on with their day-to-day lives.
“We’ve been living with it,” said Morandi. “We either live with it, or move.”
This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News. It is used here with permission.