Residents of Fremont County vote ‘No’ on wildlife crossings
FREMONT COUNTY – The results are in, and voters in Fremont County are overwhelmingly opposed to wildlife crossings along U.S. Highway 20.
With 13 of 14 precincts reporting at 10:30 p.m., 78 percent of voters said no on the measure proposed by the Idaho Transportation Department.
Adding wildlife crossings was an advisory item on the ballot, meaning voters just had to indicate whether they were in favor or opposed to the idea, but the results are not binding on Fremont County. The purpose of the vote was to give county commissioners an indication of public opinion concerning wildlife crossings.
Earlier this year, the Idaho Transportation Department proposed building a $30.5 million overpass system along the U.S. Highway 20 corridor in Island Park for the purpose of protecting wildlife. The proposal also included adding net wire fencing from Targhee Pass to U.S. Highway 87.
“I am opposed to the overpass proposals,” Fremont County Commissioner Lee Miller tells EastIdahoNews.com. “If you start putting fences up between forest lands and state property, then you eliminate public access.”
State and federal infrastructure is falling apart, Miller says, and $30 million would be better spent on improving Idaho’s bridges, roads and highways.
Miller also says fences will hurt property values.
ITD’s proposal prompted a lot of public discourse and was the focus of a contentious public meeting in April.
“I do not want it because it would totally desecrate Island Park,” Ken Watts, chairman of the Island Park Preservation Coalition, told EastIdahoNews.com in April. “Our economy is almost 100 percent recreation. Anything that hurts (recreation) would devastate Island Park.”
Alternate plans from ITD were also presented at the meeting. One alternative included a $2 million to $3 million road expansion that would create a passing lane. Those who spoke at the meeting felt this alternative was a more cost-effective option.
County officials offered a counter proposal, which included adding signage alerting drivers to wildlife. County residents said they could support ITD’s alternative if signage could also be implemented. The county has also suggested a 45 mph reduction in three sections of the highway to keep the speed consistent and less confusing to drivers.
“We couldn’t ever convince ITD to lower (the posted speed limit),” Miller said.
ITD could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in April ITD officials said the county’s request was not that simple. They could not commit to that course of action at the time.
ITD and the Federal Highway Administration will ultimately determine the course of action, Miller says.
“I’m sure there will be a lot more public discussion,” he said.