Delaware and Ulster counties back Belleayre expansion
By Jay Braman Jr.
As the window to submit public comments on the proposed expansion of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center closes this week, county governments have weighed in.
As expected, not all are in favor of the $74-million plan to develop state-owned Belleayre into the largest facility allowed by law.
Casting a clear vote against the project is the Greene County Legislature.
Last week, Greene’s Legislative Chair Wayne Speenburgh sent a statement to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) saying Belleayre is unfair competition with Greene’s two private ski centers, Hunter and Windham, and that he fears loss of revenue to the two should Belleayre’s expansion plan move forward.
“Should this expansion occur, the additional skier visits to Belleayre will cannibalize the skier visits of the other operating ski facilities in the state and especially the Capital Region,” Speenburgh’s letter states.
Full Ulster support
But one day after Speenburgh’s action, Ulster County lawmakers issued a statement in full support of the expansion.
Legislator James Maloney and Legislator Peter Loughran, chairman and deputy chairman of the Ulster County Economic Development and Tourism Committee restated Ulster County’s support of the Belleayre expansion and applauded the state’s proposed $74 million plans for upgrades and improvement.
“Belleayre is a year-round economic development engine for the entire Catskill Region,” Maloney said in response to criticism from Greene County Legislators, “The economic and tourism benefits go well beyond county lines or seasonal activities.”
“Tourist flock to an area with multiple facilities,” Loughran added, “and each of these ski centers offers a unique experience.”
Both legislators believe the project will attract new visitors to the region that will benefit a large cross section of business including restaurants, gas stations, hotels, motels, and retail stores. Maloney hopes to work with Delaware and Greene counties to insure and expand year- round tourism opportunities in the Catskills.
Belleayre Mountain Ski area is situated at the geographic “corner” of all three counties and lies only a few hundred yards from Delaware County and less than three miles from Greene County.
“It is a state owned facility and the state has a responsibility to maintain it as well as make improvements.” Maloney said. “It would be short sited to ignore what a tremendous asset Belleayre is to the region or allow it to fall into disrepair.”
Joining the discussion was none other than Dean Gitter, managing partner in Crossroads Ventures LLC, the company proposing the $400 million private sector plan to build a resort next to Belleayre, a resort that is also under review and, like the Belleayre expansion, the subject of a public comment phase that ends July 24.
In a letter to DEC, Gitter outlined a history of Hunter, Windham and Delaware County’s Plattekill Mountain having an aversion to any sort of cooperative effort.
“This is an on-going tragedy.” Gitter wrote. “National experts in ski promotion have repeatedly opined that, if a cooperative approach to promoting the Catskills as a major ski area were vigorously pursued, skier visits to the region could be increased by at least 50 percent. Their presence, only two hours’ drive from the richest market in America, virtually assures all Catskill ski areas the ability to seize much of the ski traffic which otherwise travels past the Catskills to Vermont.”
Rather than fight the expansion, Gitter says they should welcome it.
“Once more I appeal to them: stop the nonsense,” Gitter added. “Think beyond yesterday. Embrace a regional approach to the market. Catskill skiing could have a glorious future.”
Delaware County, according to the county’s Office of Watershed Affairs, has submitted comments to DEC in support of the expansion of Belleayre, but the department’s commissioner, Dean Frasier, said Monday that those comments did not go into specifics.
“We only said we supported the full build out of Belleayre,” he said. “We didn’t go into how it impacts the other ski centers.”
DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach said Monday that it would be premature for department staff to determine the ratio between project support and opposition, or how many comments have been received.