Resort foes fear stimulus money will go to developer

By Jay Braman Jr.
A citizens group staunchly opposed to the Belleayre Resort project views a request for stimulus money to expand the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center with a jaundiced eye. Speculating a number of scenarios, the Catskill Heritage Alliance suspects that, in some way, a portion of the $62 million requested would get funneled across the property line between Belleayre and the private resort, set to be built right next door.
But according to representatives for Crossroads Ventures, the company proposing the $400 million luxury tourist destination, nothing could be further from the truth.
In a letter written on April 9, the Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature urged Governor Paterson to allocate stimulus money for the expansion of the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.
“I am concerned that the Obama “economic stimulus package” will pass by without the needed expansion of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center being included,” wrote Chairman David Donaldson. “The ski center’s expansion was approved by the voters of New York State by a constitutional amendment 20 years ago. I hope you agree this is long overdue, and I ask you to finally make the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center expansion a reality as requested by both our constituents.”
At the same time, the same request appeared on the state’s official stimulus money wish list, a county-by-county breakdown of every request made. However, that request came not from Ulster County, where Belleayre ski center is located, but from Delaware County where Belleayre sits along the Town of Middletown line. Unclear is who in Delaware County submitted the request, with Delaware Board of Supervisors Chair James Eisel and Economic Development Director Glenn Nealis denying involvement.
What’s troubling to the CHA is the language in the request, which asks for the $62 million to be used for Belleayre’s expansion but includes the phrase “and with it, the development of the privately owned Belleayre Resort.”
Should it come to pass that stimulus money is granted Belleayre, CHA speculates a number of results.
“Diverting stimulus funding to the highly controversial resort would be an abuse of the stimulus program,” said CHA chair Richard Schaedle in a prepared statement last week. “It’s an exclusive, private ski condo to be built on a sensitive mountaintop. It is nowhere near ‘shovel ready.’ The Environmental Impact Statement phase is far from complete, and the resort will not be permitted anytime soon, if at all. If advocates succeed in getting stimulus funding for the ski center, and some of that gets funneled to the resort, it would seriously undermine the ongoing environmental review process. It would represent a kind of federal end-run around it, a prejudgment that the resort will get built despite its serious negative environmental and fiscal impacts, and its lack of positive economic development impacts.”
Gary Gailes, a consultant for Crossroads who is temporarily handling the company’s public relations chores, said Tuesday that he didn’t even know about the Delaware County request.
“This is the first I’ve heard if it,” he said, adding that Crossroads has not asked for stimulus money and does not intend to.
Belleayre’s expansion plan has received considerable community attention ever since 2007 when it was linked to the Crossroads project. If the resort is approved, the state has agreed to build new lifts and trails next to the resort on 78 acres that would be purchased from Crossroads by the state. This would be done in a way that would provide resort visitors with “ski in-ski out” benefits.
If stimulus money does show up, CHA fears it would be hard to tell if any does end up benefiting Crossroads.
“The resort’s developer,” said Schaedle, “has so closely linked the public ski center expansion with the resort, that even experts have trouble telling where one ends and the other begins.”
In a recent telephone interview Donaldson made it clear that his request was exclusively for the ski center and that he does not want to see stimulus funds go to Crossroads.
“It’s (the resort) a private project,” he said.
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition to save Belleayre says that he doesn’t know where the Delaware County request came from and he called the CHA “political vultures” and said now is not the time to be trying to keep stimulus money out of the area.
“We’re parsing words here,” he said,” While no one else in the country is. No area needs help more than ours.”