Proposition 1 and 2 have sucked a lot of oxygen out of the mid-term election debate. There’s another issue on the ballot in Fremont County that could potentially affect all of us that love Island Park.
Should a federal and state-funded project to improve Highway 20 include overpasses or underpasses for wildlife crossings?
An advisory vote on November 6 is splitting the county apart.
The ballot question reads:
Yes, I am in favor of wildlife crossings along U.S. 20.
No, I am not in favor of wildlife crossings along U.S. 20.
I don’t know.
Only people who list Fremont County as their permanent residence can vote. Those that live there in the summer or on weekends cannot vote.
Tim Reynolds cannot vote, but he thinks the whole advisory vote is a bad idea.
“I think an advisory vote that disallows over or underpasses is very short-sighted Because overpasses are tools that work. Why take that out of your toolkit?” asks Reynolds.
Nancy Goodman agrees. She says it’s only a matter of time before a person is killed in an animal collision near Island Park. She describes the last wreck that occurred.
“There was a flashing sign that said ‘wildlife crossing.’ People from the north stopped while elk crossed the highway. People from the south stopped. A gentleman from Montana sees people stopped, doesn’t know why, so he passes them all and hits an elk. Throws it into the stopped vehicles and five people were sent to the hospital,” says Goodman. “One of the commissioners said that was careless driving,” she continued. “I had to say how could that be avoided? Five years from now the elk could be at the same hot spot on Highway 20 to cross, but there’s an overpass. Those same vehicles that are coming can safely travel without slowing down. There’s no collision, no ambulance, no accident at all. It’s a preventable situation.”
Greg Bitter opposes the overpass or underpass idea. He’ll vote ‘no’ on November 6.
He says, “I agree we need to do something in regards to animals. I’ve hit a couple deer. I’m not against making changes, But an overpass? That’s too expensive.”
Bitter also dislikes the look of the fencing used to guide the animals to the overpass. He thinks it will ruin the pristine look of America’s longest main street.
Goodman says the fence won’t bother her.
“The difference between seeing dead animals and a fence, no question. Give me a fence,” said Goodman.
Reynolds says it reflects well on Island Park as a whole.
“To me, fences tell me something about the community,” Reynolds said.
But Bitter maintains, “There’s other things we can do to reduce animal impact.”
Ken Watts agrees. He says overpasses or underpasses are a huge waste of taxpayer dollars that could better be spent on other changes to Highway 20.
“We look to a Chevy solution rather than a Cadillac,” said Watts. “We support reducing the speed, cutting back trees along the highway, more police enforcement. We’re all in agreement we want to protect wildlife. We just disagree on the cost.”
The cost of an overpass based on the state of Wyoming’s wildlife crossings is about $2.5 million. The cost for improving Highway 20 from Henry’s Lake to the Montana line could be $30 million. 92 percent of that would be federally funded.
The commissioners of Fremont County have taken a stand against any overpasses or underpasses, again because they consider it a waste of taxpayer money.
Commissioner LeRoy Miller says, “Well, the county commissioners have taken the position that fencing overpasses is an extreme expense to taxpayers. When you see our infrastructure falling apart. What we could do with $30 million including improvement on the road itself and putting in animal detectors, trimming trees back. Everyone is in favor of that.”
Commissioner Miller reminds everyone it is just an advisory vote. The state and federal government will make any final decision on what happens to Highway 20.
Proponents of the overpasses say since Highway 20 is going to be greatly improved, why not put in the overpasses now rather than later? The highway through Island Park has about 1.5 million motorists annually. Travel is predicted to grow to 2.5 million by 2040.