Spitzer honored with Spirit of the Catskills award

By Jay Braman Jr.
A capacity crowd of supporters turned out for the Belleayre Music Conservatory’s annual Snowball at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center Saturday night. The midwinter, black-tie event is held to raise funds for the Belleayre Music Conservatory’s summer music program and to honor friends of the conservatory.
New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer was given the conservatory’s Spirit of the Catskills award this year for his effort in brokering a deal between Crossroads Ventures and several environmental groups that paves the way for a downsized Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park to move forward. New York State Deputy Secretary for the Environment Judith Enck accepted the award for Gov. Spitzer’s who was invited but did not attend. Also attending the party were protesters representing a number of groups who remain unhappy with the size and location of the proposed resort and the method by which the deal brokered by the governor was struck.
Secretary Enck stopped outside the ball to speak with the protestors and agreed to meet with them to discuss their concerns about the resort plan but the message she brought to the ball from Albany was that Spitzer stands firmly behind the deal.
“The Agreement in Principle on the proposed Crossroads Resort Project illustrates that we can, and indeed must, balance economic growth with environmental protection,” Enck said. “ It certainly is not easy, but it can be done.”
Calling the task of breaking the eight-year log jam between the parties “ a next to impossible assignment,” Enck outlined the key elements of the deal and recognized those that signed on to it.
“I am proud of this agreement and more proud of the people who have signed on to the agreement,” she said.
While presenting the award, Coalition For Belleayre President Joe Kelly said that Spitzer’s Agreement in Principle provides the region with a compromise that will move the area forward.
“We have been in a decade’s long recession that this year’s award winner has vowed to turn around.” Kelly said. “And for that we award this year’s Spirit of the Catskills award to Governor Eliot Spitzer.”
Meanwhile, some 70 representatives from villages and hamlets all over the region braved the 15-degree weather to protest what they call a fatally-flawed agreement.
“We are very concerned about the negative social and economic impacts that a corporate-owned resort of this magnitude would bring about,” said Judith Wyman of Friends of Catskill Park. “In addition to the negative impacts on the environment, there would be costs to local economies and taxpayers. Destination resorts are geared to contain their clientele and compete head-on with local businesses,” Wyman said.
“And historically taxes go up, not down, to pay for increased services needed. So the communities pay twice, first in loss of quality of life and second in higher taxes”
Enck, who thanked the protesters for voicing their opinions, spoke inside the ball about the “bumpy reception” this agreement was receiving.
“I want to emphasize that every detail will be analyzed in a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement,” she said. “All decisions will be subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. All state and local laws and regulations still apply. I understand that some local citizens disagree with this compromise. They think the project is still too large, will impact the scenic beauty of the region or will in some way damage the environment. While I personally do not agree with that assessment, I honor their role in the process.”