Park County commissioners said at their Oct. 18 meeting that they plan to improve a portion of Jim Mountain Road they had previously indicated might not be upgraded.
The announcement was followed by an unusually heated discussion with several unhappy property owners, who felt commissioners had reneged on their word to fix the whole road. One had brought the complaints to the commission in September.
Commissioners generally contended they had never promised to fix the entire stretch and that full improvements could drive the project over budget.
The commission typically avoids getting involved in any private road maintenance, but agreed to fix Jim Mountain Road because: 1) it provides public access to the Shoshone National Forest’s upper Jim Mountain trailhead and 2) they had federal dollars available for the project.
Commissioners never explicitly said how much money they would spend on the project when they approved the funding. Their public advertisements and county minutes said they would spend “up to the full amount of $153,536.69” — what was left in the account for U.S. Forest Service-related projects.
The commission and landowners differ on what that meant.
Commissioners said they later decided to spend only about $90,000 on the road, leaving around four-tenths of a mile unimproved. That upset landowners.
“We were quote ‘promised’ or allocated $154,000. You had not spent that $154,000 and your crews simply disappeared,” said Brad Holland, who also wrote a letter to the editor of the Cody Enterprise criticizing the commission. Holland said the landowners were trying to hold the board accountable.
Commissioner Dave Burke also recalled agreeing the entire road would be fixed, but the other commissioners said that wasn’t their recollection.
“We discussed all the different projects (that could use the federal funding),” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf. “We never discussed 100 percent of this money going to Jim Mountain Road. Never.”
“It’s our fault maybe for being vague, but there was no budget for saying it’d be $154,000,” said Commissioner Tim French.
“I personally know what I said, now what you heard, I don’t know,” Commissioner Joe Tilden told the landowners.
“All we’re asking is finish the road,” said Jim Mountain resident Alex Gisoldi. He spearheaded the efforts to get funding to improve the road. Gisoldi said the four-tenths of a mile could be finished while staying under $153,536 and said improvements could be made for a fraction of the cost county road and bridge staff.
Commission Chairman Bucky Hall lost his temper when Gisoldi went further and suggested the county had “cooked” the cost by overestimating it.
“Sit down,” Hall commanded when Gisoldi sought to approach the commission bench with photos of the road.
“Nothing is cooked,” Hall said.
Almost immediately, the chairman apologized for losing his temper and Gisoldi apologized for the “cooked” comment. The two shook hands after the meeting.
Tilden said Gisoldi was comparing vastly different amounts of work with his cost figures and resented questions about county staff’s integrity.
A couple of commissioners suggested the residents should be grateful that the county was fixing the road at all, and bristled at the criticism.
“It’s like, ‘Thanks a lot, you guys,’” said Hall, adding that “we’ve never spent money on a private subdivision road before, ever.”
French said about three people had called him and criticized the Jim Mountain residents and their complaints.
“They’re saying some rough things about the residents up there, that you guys have brought on by making these kinds of allegations,” he said.
“Geez, you don’t have to kiss our brass rings, but to make all kinds of accusations and stuff, that chaps my hide,” French added later.
“I’m wondering why we did that (spent money to fix the road),” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, prompted by Holland’s comment that there was “a lot of shame on both sides.”
Jim Mountain resident Pat Montgomery helped reset and calm the conversation by praising the work the county road and bridge crews had done on the road so far, saying they “deserve every complimentary thing we can say about them.”
“I wanted to take a break in the midst of the conversation and start with the really good things that have been happening, too,” Montgomery said.
Before the heated argument began, commissioners had already said they intended to make drainage and surface improvements on the four-tenths of a mile in dispute, though they likely will not go over the $153,535 figure.
“This in my mind will essentially fulfill everybody’s desire here for fixing the road,” said Burke of the plan.
Other improvements are planned on the county-owned portion of the road (Road 6GV) that’s right off U.S. 14-16-20.
“I think we like what we’re hearing, but I think a lot of it (the frustration) is not having heard that (before) and not knowing where you were going with that,” Montgomery said.
Jim Mountain Road accesses about a dozen homes in the Wapiti Heights Subdivision. It’s also been used as a staging area for fighting Shoshone National Forest fires.