By Mike Koshmrl
A private club built along the Snake River’s floodplain south of Jackson may be able to keep a modified flood control structure built to protect a golf course hole.
The Snake River Sporting Club received a violation notice from Teton County planners on Jan. 28 with instructions on what to do about the approximately 300-foot riprap levee, which was built inland in late 2017 but became exposed along the riverbank by the next spring’s runoff. Unlike other unpermitted work, the club isn’t being told to remove the levee in straightfo rward terms, though Teton County Senior Planner Hamilton Smith does expect wholesale changes to the structure. “No one is 100 percent certain of [what it will look like] right now,” Smith said. “It needs to be rehabilitated in some way that is amenable to the best interest of the ecological function of the Snake River.”
Federal permitting processes the county is requiring the Sporting Club to undertake will shape the final form of the structure, which the club’s owners refer to as a “boulder trench.” Conservationists and river advocates are also engaged in process.
“We’re not holding their hand here,” Smith said. “They’re going to decide, with information provided, how to make this unauthorized action best conform with our regulations and other federal agency juri sdictions’ regulations.”
Teton County’s violation notice explains that the riprap levee failed to comply with a condition of the club’s development permit, and also the universal land development regulations. To return to compliance, the Sporting Club must
navigate a review process that will determine whether the riverside work complies with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which comes into play because the Snake River is classified as a “scenic” waterway where it flows through the canyon.
Permitting processes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality must also be navi gated, and the outcomes will drive the county’s next steps. If the federal agencies determine that the project fits the legal definition of a “dike, levee or retaining wall,” the club will have to try to amend its development conditions. Due to its relatively small size, at 0.14 acres, the club’s initial “boulder trench” was exempt from a Teton County grading and erosion control permit, but that authorization, too, may become necessary depending on the scope of the final proposal, the violation notice states.
County planners gave the club until March 26 to round up the needed paperwork.
Snake River Fund Executive Director Jared Baecker has been talking with Sporting Club majority owner Christopher Swann to find a solution that the conservation community can live with. They met with others, including the Army Corps, in mid-January.
“There was an acknowledgement of mistakes,” Baecker said, “and they said they want to do the right thing for the resource.”
Conservationists are not taking a hard line and demanding no manipulation of the Snake River’s banks.
“We’re figuring out ways to stabilize the banks to protect private property up and down the corridor, wherever that might be appropriate,” Baecker said. “‘Wild and Scenic’ rivers, that definition doesn’t prohibit a private landowner from protecting their land.”
The boulder trench was built along a seasonally filled side channel that’s eroded in the direction of the club’s golf course by 100 feet or more since the club was built in the early 2000s. At its closest the bank is now within a few yards of a golf cart path, which skirts the east side of the course’s 15th hole.
Replacing the boulder structure for a more natural-looking combination of wood and native rock could be one solution that appeases the Snake River Fund, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other groups working with the club.
“We are hopeful that natural armoring without hardening would be suitable for the landowner and also comply with Wild and Scenic outstanding and remarkable values,” Baecker said. “But it’s going to take some tinkering to figure out how to do that properly.”
Other unauthorized Sporting Club projects are in the process of being removed or are already gone.
A bridge that spanned a Snake River braid was removed in early January, and an associated wetland reclamation plan was submitted ahead of a county deadline. Teton County zoning compliance officer Chandler Windom inspected the site, later writing Swann that the visit was “very successful.”
Stockpiled boulders that also must go have mostly been moved, ahead of an agreed-to deadline that was extended, Windom told the News& Guide.
Farther north an unauthorized berm and built-up riverbank that clogged a Snake side channel must be restored and revegetated no later than Sept. 1. A pickleball court built without permission must also come out this summer.
Teton County’s Smith said the club’s leaders are working to rectify missteps on all fronts.
“They are showing good faith in addressing and making progress on all aspects of the violations,” Smith said. “I think they absolutely, positively want to resolve this and move forward.”
Sporting Club owner Swann said that since the county’s violation came in no decisions have been made about what will become of the boulder structure.
“We’re working through all interested parties and getting feedback,” Swann said. “At this point, we’re getting together all our plans and looking forward to a resubmittal.”
He was upbeat about putting the unauthorized river work behind him.
“We’re eager to get it resolved,”
Published by Jackson Hole News & Guide, Feb 13
Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JHNGenviro.