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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
By JAY BRAMAN JR.
HIGHMOUNT — A citizens’ group staunchly opposed to the proposed Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park is viewing with a jaundiced eye a request for federal stimulus money to expand the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center next door.
The Catskill Heritage Alliance asserts that, in some way, a portion of the $62 million requested for the ski center would be funneled to the private resort. But representatives of Crossroads Ventures, the developer of the $400 million resort, say nothing could be further from the truth.
Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson, D-Kingston, has urged Gov. David Paterson to allocate federal stimulus money to the Belleayre expansion.
“I am concerned that the Obama ‘economic stimulus package’ will pass by without the needed expansion of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center being included,” Donaldson wrote in a letter dated April 9. “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.”
In a recent telephone interview, Donaldson said his request was intended exclusively for the ski center and that he does not want to see stimulus funds go to the resort, which he called “a private project.”
The same request for Belleayre funding appeared on the state’s official wish list for stimulus money, but not as a request from Ulster County — where Belleayre is located — but from Delaware County, which the ski center abuts along the town of Middletown line.
It is not clear who in Delaware County submitted the request. County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Eisel and Economic Development Director Glenn Nealis both denied involvement.
The Catskill Heritage Alliance says it is troubled by the language of the funding request, which asks for the $62 million to be used for Belleayre’s expansion “and with it, the development of the privately owned Belleayre Resort.”
“Diverting stimulus funding to the highly controversial resort would be an abuse of the stimulus program,” alliance Chairman Richard Schaedle said 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.’
“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,” he said. “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 Ventures, said he didn’t even know about the Delaware County request. He said Crossroads has not asked for stimulus money and does not intend to.
Belleayre’s expansion plan has received considerable community attention since 2007, when it was linked to the resort project. If the resort is approved, the state has agreed to build new lifts and trails next to the resort on 78 acres the state would purchase from Crossroads, and provide resort visitors with “ski in-ski out” benefits.
If stimulus money does show up, Schaedle said, it would be difficult to tell if any ends up benefiting Crossroads. “The resort’s developer has so closely linked the public ski center expansion with the private, luxury, steep-slope resort, that even experts have trouble telling where one ends and the other begins,” he said.
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition to save Belleayre, called the Catskill Heritage Alliance “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 while no one else in the country is,” he said. “No area needs help more than ours.”