June 17, 2009: CHA backs Belleayre Mountain funding

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To The Editor:
Recent letters accusing the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA) of personal attacks on the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and its employees, and accusing us of trying to torpedo stimulus funds for the ski center are factually wrong on all counts. Not only do we support the ski center and applaud the key role it plays in the community, we’re also on record that the ski center should be expanded to its full complement under the 2002 draft Unit Management Plan (UMP).
We did not and do not oppose stimulus funding for the ski center; we simply flagged suspicious entries on the list of stimulus requests asking for $62 million to expand the publicly owned Belleayre Ski Center, “and with it, the development of the privately owned Belleayre Resort.” Using stimulus funding needed for infrastructure and economic development for private luxury ski condos clearly would have been an abuse of the program.
It is not CHA’s work (as if we had such power – we can’t even get in to see DEC staff or obtain documents through our FOIL requests!) that torpedoed stimulus funding and continues to bedevil the ski center expansion we all want to see. It’s the inappropriate, damaging and apparently deliberate strategy of blurring the lines between the public ski center and the private resort, so that the private developer can lay claim to public aid in his bid to build a highly inappropriate project on sensitive, steep-slope forest land.
This situation came about because the 2002 UMP was never implemented, as it should have been, and was later discarded as the developer’s plans for the private resort evolved. In 2007, an Agreement in Principle (AIP) was rammed through by then-Governor Spitzer calling for a new UMP requiring the state to purchase the old Highmount Ski Center and create ski-in ski-out capabilities for the private luxury resort. We are still waiting for that new UMP today, but the premises for it laid out in the AIP are so confused, linking the public ski center and the private resort so inextricably, that even experts have trouble telling where one ends and the other begins. That confusion is calculated to help the developer get the resort he wants, but it hurts the rest of us.
So far, derailing the 2002 UMP and adopting the AIP have held up ski center expansion for seven years. The murky, joined-at-the-hip approach of expanding the ski center “and with it” building the resort effectively disqualified the center from stimulus funding it might otherwise have gotten. Those are both losses for the public interest, and more will accrue until the center and resort projects are de-linked.
No one disputes that the ski center and the people who work there are pillars of this community. The best way to support them and enhance the center’s role as an economic engine is to cut its expansion loose from the burden of an inappropriate private project that threatens to enrich the developer at the expense of our local economy and environment.

Richard Schaedle, Chairman
Catskill Heritage Alliance