Slide slows, costs accelerate in Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole’s landslide slows but cost of mitigation to surpass $1 million 

Such a deal:  Sliders, Rolling Rocks, and mudslides

JACKSON, Wyo. — The landslide that dropped 10 feet, breaking apart a house in Jackson, has slowed to 1-500th of an inch in at least one location on Wednesday.

The slowing is seen by town officials as evidence that mitigation efforts have been effective. The Jackson Hole News&Guide also points out that the $750,000 authorized by the council will soon be surpassed and, at present rates, cost of mitigation will run $1 million.

“I am very concerned with the costs of this,” Mayor Mark Barron told the paper. “I’m balancing that with protecting the public assets we have and life safety issues. This is going to be expensive no matter how you cut it.”

The story does have moments of humor. With the slide now slowed, several businesses on the lower portions of East Gros Ventre Butte have been allowed to reopen. One of them, a bar and restaurant called Sidewinders, opened the door with deals on mudslides, sliders and Rolling Rocks.

But the Walgreens at the base remains closed “indefinitely,” according to a press release from the Town of Jackson.

After the slide forced evacuation of residents and businesses, the spectacle drew 100 gawkers at a time—ironically, among them the occupants of the house. Jeremy and Sara Budge tell the News&Guide that they first noticed a crack the width of a penny in the house. That was in Christmas 2011. The next spring, they grew uneasy once the snow melted to reveal a crack in the driveway. But they didn’t know the severity of the situation.

By Mother’s Day of 2013, however, problems had become much worse. Cracks had widened, doors did not fit in their frames, and the house had dropped a few inches. In November 2013, the family vacated the house, worried about the stability of the slope.

In mid-April, they became spectators in the destruction of their own house.

“It’s really a weird emotion, because it’s interesting and then you’re really sad,” Sara Budge told the News&Guide.

“You realize this is your house being torn apart, and then you start tearing up,” Jeremy Budge said.

Others living on East Gros Ventre Butte were also forced to flee, many without their possessions. One resident, a drywaller, tells about moving his tools and other possessions down a trail in a wheelbarrow. The road had become undriveable.

One couple deeply affected by the landslide lives miles away, in Victor, Idaho. They commuted to Jackson to work at the Walgreens,. The parking lot for the store has buckled under the weight of the mass of dirt pushing down the slope. The couple is now jobless, struggling to pay rent.

Bob McLaurin, town manager, reports that all businesses except for Walgreens have reopened, and all of the residents of the hillside have been allowed to return home except those at the top. An employee housing complex for Walgreens can be reoccupied once power is restored.

Town official McLaurin told Mountain Town News that the town needs to redesign water and sewer lines first and then design the mitigation measures. The overriding lesson, he said, is that while it’s easy to take things for granted, this serves as a reminder that the mountains can be unpredictable. “Mother Nature can be confusing,” he said.

In an editorial last week, the News&Guide commends officials in Jackson and Teton County for what it calls a well-measured response.

“The finger-pointing will begin soon enough and there will likely be more jobs for lawyers than Realtors in the Budge Drive landslide neighborhood.”

But what has gone right, it says, is what the town, in particular, has done: community meetings that are live-streamed, letting consultants speak and be questioned, and using mobile media to send emergency alerts. “Information about operations has been robust and detailed in describing the emergency response.”

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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