Reviews of Belleayre Resort start; plans, public input will be weighed

150 turn out to view resort plans;
Tuesday session expected to draw opposing opinions

By Jay Braman Jr.

The review of the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park began Monday with an information session held at the Discovery Lodge at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.
The 150 residents that came to the session were able to view maps and graphics of what the project would look like and where it would be located. They also got a glimpse of the rough details for some expansion of the state-owned ski center, which will be joined with the privately owned resort. The developers also had on hand maps of the project as originally proposed to show how things have changed since meetings with opposition groups under the watchful eye of Governor Eliot Spitzer that have been held since last January.

In September Spitzer came to Kingston to announce that the project, which originally called for three golf courses back in 1999 when developer Dean Gitter first made his plans public, had been revised to satisfy the majority of those organizations that were against it.
The plans under review have been prepared in agreement with the likes of Riverkeeper, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Trout Unlimited. These organizations vehemently opposed the original plan but have signed an agreement in principle with the developer and Spitzer, who is taking credit for brokering the deal. There are other organizations that were involved in the talks that remain opposed and therefore did not sign on to the agreement. Those groups include the Catskill Heritage Alliance and the Sierra Club. Since September, new opposition groups have been formed, like Save the Mountain, an umbrella organization that includes CHA and the Sierra Club, plus the Highmount Preservation Association. The town of Hardenburgh also opposes the new plan.

The project described Monday night, according to Crossroads spokesman Paul Rakov, is unchanged from the description outlined in September. It consists of two resort complexes, both located west of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center along Ulster County Route 49A and south of state Route 28. The first resort, Wildacres, will include a 250-room hotel plus 139 lodging units in townhouse-style units surrounding an 18-hole golf course. The second resort, the Highmount Spa, consists of a 120-room hotel, spa facility, 60 lodging units in two multiunit buildings and 60 detached lodging units in up to 52 buildings. It is being designed as a ski-in, ski-out resort connecting with the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center through a 78-acre expansion of the state’s holdings, to be built on the site of the former Highmount Ski Center.

Under the agreement, nine more miles of ski trail are planned and would include the two-and-a-half miles of trails already located at the former Highmount Ski Center. There will also be new lifts, and the lower lodge will be expanded to become the central lodge for the state-owned facility and an extra 1,200 parking spaces would be added between the lower lodge and Route 28.

The increased snow making will require the creation of a new water reservoir that would hold water pumped from Belleayre Lake.

As for the water that would slake the thirst of the resort, the developer has drilled three new wells. Those wells are now being tested to determine if they can provide enough water on a daily basis without reducing the flows in neighboring wells and communities. The developers still consider purchasing water from the Village of Fleischmanns an option.

Monday’s well publicized session was set up to give the public an understanding of the specifics of the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, as well as the details of the state’s own plan to expand the ski center. A scoping session was held last night after press time. Details of the session will in next week’s issue of the Catskill Mountain News.
The session Monday, which took place at the Discovery Lodge, took some by surprise. Instead of any formal presentation by the developers or by DEC, which not only presides over the project review but also operates the ski center, visitors were only able to examine maps and graphics at a variety of information tables where staffers were on hand to answer questions.

Fleischmanns resident Mary Macy said she came to the session hoping to get a clear picture of the proposal so she could respond to it at the scoping session. But the format Monday did little to help, she said.

“It’s a terrible presentation,” Macy said. “People are confused.”

Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition for Belleayre, said he wasn’t sure what to make of Monday nights format, but added that it was possible that many people already had the information they needed from three months ago, when the plan was first made public as an agreement in principle. Kelly expected a much larger turnout for last night’s gathering.
“That’s’ when I’m gonna talk,” he said.

The scoping session is the part of the review process in which the public and involved parties outline the issues that need to be reviewed.

While there was some sketchy information on hand showing the plans for the expansion of the state-owned ski center, it did not show as much detail as many had hoped it would.
William Janeway, the regional director of DEC’s Region III, said the state’s plans were not as fleshed out as the plans provided by the developer, but they would be within a few months. Janeway said his department was using the scoping session as an opportunity to get ideas from the public as to how best to expand Belleayre. That input, he said, would be reviewed and possibly incorporated into the overall plan.

Dan Ruzow, the attorney for the developers, said that he hoped that his client would have prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement by March 2008. That draft would be the developer’s response to the issues raised during the scoping session, showing the developer’s plans for mitigating any negative environmental impacts the new proposal may bring.

Ruzow added that changes to the project’s plan should be expected.

150 turn out to view resort plans