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Neighbors, officials angry over ITD proposal to build fences, overpasses for wildlife in Island Park

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Hundreds attended a public meeting Saturday night in Island Park where the Idaho Transportation Department proposals were discussed. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com.

ISLAND PARK — The Idaho Transportation Department is proposing a $30.5 million overpass system along the U.S. 20 corridor in Island Park. The proposal includes adding three overpasses in this area with net wire fencing that would begin at the top of Targhee Pass and extend four miles southwest ending at U.S. Hwy 87.

One reason for the proposal is to protect wildlife.

Wildlife crossings, like the one shown in this rendering, are being constructed on Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. ITD is proposing similar structures in Island Park. | Washington State Department of Transportation

Hundreds attended a public meeting at the Fremont County EMS building Saturday night where the overpass proposal and four alternative ITD plans were presented to members of the surrounding communities. Those alternatives include fixing the surface of the road along this corridor, expanding and modernizing the road and installing wildlife detection systems.

Based on information presented at the meeting, the cost of fixing the road would be $2-3 million. The cost of expanding and modernizing would be about $22 million.

Fremont County officials are also proposing a speed reduction to 45 mph in three sections of the highway extending from Pond’s Lodge to Elk Creek, Mack’s Inn to Island Park Resort and Valley View to Targhee Pass. The county’s proposal also includes adding signage alerting drivers to wildlife.

There are currently five 45 mph speed zones in place along this route. The reason for the county’s speed proposal is to maintain a consistent speed limit to make it less confusing to drivers. Those who spoke at the meeting were overwhelmingly in support of the county’s proposal.

Ken Watts is the Chairman of the Island Park Preservation Coalition. He outlined the details of each of the proposals during the meeting. He told EastIdahoNews.com he is adamantly opposed to ITD’s overpass and fencing proposal.

“I do not want it because it would totally desecrate Island Park,” Watts said. “People can see how beautiful it is driving through here. Now imagine driving through prison fences and massive overpasses every few miles. We’ve kept it beautiful here for 100 years. We have a sacred trust to protect the beauty of the area.”

Watts feels ITD’s proposal would hurt property values and restrict access to the park as well as hunting and snowmobiling.

“Our economy is almost 100-percent recreation. Anything that hurts (recreation) would devastate Island Park,” Watts said.

Watts is not alone in his perspective. Ralph Kincheloe spoke on behalf of property owners in Big Horn Estates at the meeting. While speaking with EastIdahoNews.com, he also used the word “prison” when mentioning fences and said the commissioners, sheriff and mayor made their request more than 60 days ago as a counter proposal to ITD. During a public commissioner meeting Apr. 23, Kincheloe said ITD was not willing to even consider the county’s proposal.

“They said they didn’t recognize us as a state so they didn’t have to coordinate with us. They had a big smirk on their face the entire time. That’s their approach,” Kincheloe said.

Representatives from ITD attended the meeting and said they will take everyone’s comments and feedback under consideration.

Members of the community who spoke felt ITD’s proposal to fix or expand the road was a more cost-effective option. They said they could support either of these alternatives if the speed limit reduction and wildlife signage could also be implemented.

ITD representatives said it was not that simple and could not commit to that course of action at this time.

Research from ITD indicates the average number of animal fatalities reported along the U.S. 20 corridor in a five year period was four per year. One person who spoke up at the meeting used that number and compared it with the number of drivers annually – reported at 1.825 million. Based upon the math, he said the county’s 45 mph speed limit reduction did not make any sense.

“There’s a two-millionth of a percent chance that an animal will get hit. If we want to do road improvements or a passing lane, that’s great. But I see no practical need to change the speed limit. I don’t think we need to change anything,” the man said.

Watts said the community’s feedback from last night’s meeting will be reviewed by county officials. He said a final decision will be made sometime this summer.

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