Belleayre boosters blast state’s cost saving rhetoric

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By Jay Braman Jr.
In the immortal words of tennis great John McEnroe, says Joe Kelly of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

While McEnroe used the phrase to express bewilderment and anger at the judgment calls made by tennis tournament officials, Kelly used it for similar reasons this week in response to claims by state officials that now is not the time to be spending money on ski lodges and other recreational amenities at the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center.

The argument would hold water, Kelly said, if the state wasn’t spending millions for exactly those amenities at its other ski centers in the Adirondacks, known as Whiteface and Gore.
“Go to Whiteface and Gore Web sites,” Kelly said. “Big improvements at both this year but the governor says no money for Belleayre.”

Following Kelly’s lead, a quick view of those sites reveals big improvements, indeed.
Whiteface features the opening this year of “Lookout Mountain,” which includes new trails, complete with snowmaking, plus a new triple chair lift to get skiers up to use the slopes.
Gore Mountain’s Web site boasts the following on its homepage: “We’ll debut tons of Burnt Ridge Mountain improvements, the all-new Ski Bowl Lodge, and significant Base Lodge upgrades!  Fifty more tower guns and another groomer will keep all of your snow days at Gore fresh.”
In comparison Belleayre, which could not even afford to hold its annual Fall Festival/Craft Fair on premises in 2008, boasts on its Web site that the fair will be back this year on the weekend of October 10-11. For improvements, Belleayre states that it has gone “green” and now limits the amount of promotional material it prints.

Judith Enck, the governor’s deputy secretary for the environment, who helped prepare the Agreement in Principle (AIP), a three-fingered plan that outlines the proposed private resort financed and built by Crossroads Ventures, a 1,200-acre land preservation deal and expansion of Belleayre as outlined in a yet-to-be-completed unit management plan for the ski center.
She said last week that the state remains committed to the agreement. As for completing the UMP she said, “slow and steady wins the day.”

The issue, Enck said, is that there are no funds in the current funding cycle to pay for either any Belleayre work or the purchase of the 1,200 acres. Nor is any expected in the next state budget. Therefore, the state does not feel any need to rush to prepare its end of the plan.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to honor the AIP,” she added.
As for the idea, which Kelly seems to have, that a hastened completion of the UMP would pave the way for stimulus to be used to begin construction at Belleayre now, Enck said that would not happen, noting that the stimulus money was and will continue to be used for safety related projects like bridge and road repairs, not ski lodges.

“Not that that’s not important, but there other priorities,” she said.
“Every day that Belleayre languishes, our region suffers,” Kelly said. “A Belleayre expansion would have the immediate effects everyone seeks in this dismal economic climate. No one argues the fact that Belleayre is the only major economic asset in western Ulster County. It is the lynchpin of the entire Route 28 corridor and must be expanded to its constitutional limitations. Economic stimulus money would have an immediate positive effect in an area desperately in need of jobs.”