Irate crowd protests Belleayre cuts, calls for DEC to cut ski center loose

A film crew from WTEN Albany and a photographer from the Catskill Moutain News were on hand on Monday in Arkille as over 100 people gathered to protest the Department of Environmental Protection's layoffs at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.

The Daily Star and the Daily Freeman ran stories about the protest as well. Joe Kelly, the chairman of the Coalition to Save Belleayre Mountain, was quoted everywhere. We talked to him yesterday as well, and he reported that 48 permanent employees had received pink slips.

"They're in possession of pink slips right now," he said. "We're talking about employees that make $30,000 a year. That's barely enough to get by already."

The Coalition has been saving Belleayre since 1984, Kelly said, when it was founded to combat then-governor Mario Cuomo's attempt to close the ski mountain. Since then, Kelly said, Belleayre has regularly been put on the chopping block by DEC "beancounters" every two to five years.

"It's odd," Kelly said of his 30 years of Belleayre-saving. "A lot of times I scratch my head because it's deja-vu all over again one hundred times."

This latest cost-cutting measure, which Kelly said targets Belleayre disproportionately to other DEC properties across the state, is the final straw. (There's something to that, according to a job-by-job list of the layoffs.) The Coalition is now calling for the DEC to get out of the ski business and turn Belleayre over to a new state entity that can run it like a business.

"The DEC has demonstrated time after time that it does not know how to run a ski area," he said. "Belleayre needs a new entity to run the mountain. It should be in the business of business."

An online petition calling for the DEC to reinstate the lost has gathered almost 3,000 signatures. It reads:

To:  Governor Andrew Cuomo

The Belleayre Mt. Ski Center serves as the linchpin for the economy of the Rt. 28 corridor in the Central Catskills. The tremendous number of visitors drawn to the region by the ski center support private sector businesses and encourage future capital investments. The revenue Belleayre brings in is greater than the cost to operate so cutting it cuts much needed revenue for the state.

The drastic staff reductions recently announced for Belleayre threaten the short term operations and the long term viability of this important economic engine. Tourism retention and growth are the best hope to maintain vibrant communities as the region struggles to balance the impacts of the forever wild preserve, the NYC watershed and a faltering national economy. Requiring Belleayre to absorb more than 34% of the work force reductions for the entire Department of Environmental Conservation suggests that the importance of this facility is not recognized. While we understand the need for cost reductions in state operations we urge you to recognize the extreme importance of this operation for the region’s economic health. We request a more equitable distribution of layoffs by reinstatement of permanent positions being cut at Belleayre Mt.