July 16, 2008, Kingston Daily Freeman "Belleayre Issue Gets Attention"

Belleayre issue gets attention

CATSKILL - Greene County lawmakers are considering a resolution urging the governor to sign a bill establishing an independent commission to examine competition in the outdoor recreation industry.

If the bill is signed by the governor, a Blue Ribbon Commission would be formed to examine the extent of advantages state-owned outdoor recreational facilities have over privately owned businesses, according to Greene County's resolution. The commission would also make recommendations to the governor and the state Legislature regarding methods to promote fair competition in the outdoor recreation industry, the resolution states.

The resolution was adopted Monday by the Greene County Legislature's Government Operations Committee. It will go to a vote of the full Legislature this evening.

"It's my understanding that the bill is going to the governor this week," interim county Administrator Dan Frank said Tuesday.

The bill establishing the Blue Ribbon Commission was unanimously adopted in the state Senate and adopted in a 134-2 vote by the state Assembly.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, introduced the bill. In a press release last month he said the commission would begin leveling the playing field for private owners of recreational facilities who compete with state attractions. Seward said the commission would look at state-owned golf, ski, camping and other recreation businesses and how they compete with privately owned facilities.

The state-owned recreation facilities do not have to turn a profit, pay workers' compensation or unemployment insurance, Seward said. He said those businesses are funded with tax dollars, buy equipment using state contracts, pay no sales taxes and are often exempt from state health or environmental regulations that raise costs for private industries.

In the past, Greene lawmakers have adopted resolutions calling on the state to perform a financial audit of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the Ulster County town of Shandaken. They have also adopted resolutions calling for a full accounting of Belleayre and a moratorium on all state-owned ski area expansions until an independent economic analysis could be done. Greene lawmakers have said Belleayre, which the state is planning to expand, is operating at an economic advantage over the privately owned ski resorts in Hunter and Windham.

"We're not in the least bit opposed to Belleayre," Frank said. He said the county understands the positive economic impact the resort has on the state Route 28 corridor. Frank added, though, that it is unfair for Belleayre to target Greene County's skiers as a way to increase their business.

Frank said Greene officials do not want Belleayre to close. He said Greene lawmakers want the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which manages Belleayre, to be more sensitive to Greene County's needs.

Last month, Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson called on local residents to boycott events at Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl and Windham Mountain in response to what he called attacks on Belleayre Mountain by Greene's ski resorts and lawmakers.

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