The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation held a public hearing Wednesday at the Belleayre Ski Center in the Catskills. The hearing, which attracted a few hundred people, focused on two proposals and their cumulative impacts.
The comments are for a revised proposal for the private Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, straddling Delaware and Ulster Counties, as well as a variety of expansion plans for the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, which is operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, but remains under the jurisdiction of the DEC. Many of those in support of a modified proposal for the resort wore t-shirts saying, “If we build it they will come,” along with “yes, support the resort” buttons. Some opponents, meanwhile, donned blue t-shirts with the message “Forever Wild.” Yet nearly all see the need to stir economic development and create jobs, though some disagree on the avenue to get there.
Leonard Utter comes from one of three families that settled Delaware County’s Town of Middletown in 1763. He is a former town supervisor and dairy farmer who says the region needs the resort to restore life to the local economy.
Yet some environmentalists say they are concerned about the potential impact on wetlands, the Delaware and Catskill watersheds, and more. And they need more time to review the documents and conduct studies before rendering a final opinion. Julie McQuain is on the Clean Water/Watershed Committee of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. Speaking against the backdrop of a driving rain, she says damaging storms like Hurricane Irene need to be considered.
March Gallagher spoke in support of the proposals on behalf of Ulster County Executive Michael Hein. Gallagher is the Ulster County deputy director for economic development. This is reportedly the first sign of support from the county executive’s office. Pete DiModica owns an antiques shop in Pine Hill, down the road, and opposes the planned resort, saying it is too big and guests will be self-contained, steering clear of area businesses.
The modified proposal for the two-hotel Belleayre resort has been scaled down from nearly twice the size some 14 years ago, yet DiModica says it is still too big.
Daniel Ruzow is the attorney for Belleayre Resort developer Crossroads Ventures.
Much of the support stems for a need to see jobs and economic development return to the region. Peg Ellsworth is with the non-profit rural development group the MARK project, and serves on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development council for the Southern Tier.
Kathy Nolan, with Catskill Heritage Alliance, also thinks the modified resort plan is too big, yet acknowledges the wealth of support now behind it.
The DEC has proposed five ways to expand the ski center, the largest of which is a full build-out option. Laszlo Vajtay owns Plattekill Mountain Ski Center, which is five miles from the Belleayre Ski Center and the closest private ski center to a public ski center in the country.
Others voiced concern about the lack of detail in the ski center plans. Here’s Kathy Nolan.
She says she would also like to see dollar figures attached to the various components of each alternative. Several spoke in support of the full build out, including the Coalition to Save Belleayre Mountain.
Overall, the afternoon session saw the majority of comments in support of one or both plans, while the evening session contained more of a mix. The written comment period has been extended to July 24. And now the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, among others, says a public hearing should be added toward the end of the comment period, and on a weekend day, so more may attend.