Two Belleayre controversies in one day

Belleayre's slopes today. Via the Belleayre Mountain Facebook page. 

There are two big stories about Belleayre Mountain Ski Center making the rounds today. First off, Jay Braman Jr. has juicy articles in both the Daily Freeman and the Catskill Mountain News about a fight between Belleayre and Plattekill Mountain Ski Center.

Both ski centers are members of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, which has been giving away free tickets to Belleayre as part of a promotion. This has outraged the owners of Plattekill, who are threatening to leave the CCCC unless the free tickets are immediately discontinued, according to the Freeman story:

Danielle Vajtay, who owns and operates Plattekill Mountain Ski Center, says the promotion is hurting the business she operates with her husband, Lazlo. “It is very disturbing that the chamber has seen nothing wrong with having all the local chamber businesses handing out free ski tickets to one ski facility in our chamber region when there are two ski centers in the chamber region,” Vajtay wrote in a letter to Chamber Executive Director Carol O’Beirne.

Secondly, there's much talk about whether or not Belleayre should be cut loose from the clutches of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in the wake of the DEC's recent layoffs at the facility. The idea is to put Belleayre into the hands of its own separate governmental authority, perhaps an agency like the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs two ski centers in the Adirondacks.

Ken Hall, a columnist in the TImes Herald-Record, argues forcefully today that this would be a terrible idea. He writes that quasi-independent authorities have a way of turning into nightmares:

Everyone agrees New York has too many authorities — those bureaucratic creations that start out all nice and helpful but soon evolve into monsters. They float above the usual restraints, spend whatever they want, swoop in to impose fees and dare anybody to stop them ... If this were a horror movie, now would be the time for the music to swell and a character to run in screaming, "Stop before it's too late. Once they get started, you'll never get out alive."

But the idea of giving Belleayre its own agency has many fans, including Joe Kelly of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, who told us last month that "Belleayre needs a new entity to run the mountain."

This week, the Catskill Watershed Corporation joined the pro-independence chorus by passing a resolution at its board meeting on Tuesday authorizing its executive director, Alan Rosa, to "explore other models for the administration and operation of the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center." To see the full CWC press release, read on:

CWC Board expresses concern for Belleayre and area businesses

MARGARETVILLE, NY, January 6, 2010 – The Catskill Watershed Corporation’s Board of Directors, meeting on January 4, adopted a resolution authorizing its Executive Director to explore other models for the administration and operation of the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.

The resolution authorizes Executive Director Alan Rosa to consult with outside counsel and interested parties to “assist in finding an equitable solution to ensure that Belleayre . . . remains in full operation, providing a vital economic benefit to the Central Catskills.”

The measure was forwarded to the full Board by the CWC Economic Development Committee, which expressed concern about the budget woes facing Belleayre and the ripple effect the ski center’s problems may have on local businesses and on the CWC’s loan fund.

“Thirteen businesses that have received $3,375,000 in loans from the Catskill Fund for the Future are directly affected by Belleayre,” explained CWC Economic Development Director Michael Triolo. “That’s 12 percent of our loan portfolio.”

The resolution also expresses CWC concern for some 45 Belleayre employees facing job and salary cuts, “causing great hardship for those employees and their families, and severely impacting the economy of the Central Catskills.”

Executive Director Rosa added that Belleayre, and privately owned ski centers in the region, are key to maintaining a tourism and recreation-based economy in the Catskills. “The uncertainty we’re seeing at Belleayre is not conducive to building a tourist economy,” Rosa said. “We need more stability there.”

Rosa will preside at an upcoming meeting of interested parties to investigate operational models for Belleayre that do not leave it as vulnerable to the vagaries of State funding. Belleayre is operated by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) which has suffered drastic budget cutbacks.

Among those attending the Economic Development Committee meeting in December was Gary Gailes of the Belleayre Conservatory, a concert series that has attracted thousands of music lovers to the ski center for the past 20 summers. Gailes noted that while the immediate focus is on staffing cutbacks and how they will impact operations this ski season, he is concerned that those cuts may negatively affect the popular concert series next summer and erode the progress that has been made over two decades in establishing Belleayre as a four-season destination.

The CWC resolution has been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the DEC Commissioner and other regional and state entities.