Resort / Ski center status report: Waiting for new DEIS, still not reviewed.
Statement by the Catskill Heritage Alliance on Big Indian Land Purchase Announcement
[Pine Hill, New York - September 20, 2011]
The following is a statement from the citizens’ group Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), www.catskillheritage.org, responding to the September 9 announcement by the New York State Comptroller’s office that it approved a contract under which NYSDEC will purchase 1200 acres of forest land on the east side of Big Indian from developer Crossroads Ventures for $5.6 million. The purchase is part of a larger deal which, if approved, would allow Crossroads to build the Belleayre Resort, a large, private luxury ski resort, on the west side of the mountain:
CHA has long been on record supporting the effort to expand the Catskill Forest Preserve, including, given the right price and circumstances, the State purchase of the 1200-acre Big Indian parcel from developer Crossroads Ventures that the Comptroller’s office approved last week. All things being equal, preserving more forestlands in the Catskills is a good thing.
However, this particular purchase is a prerequisite for approving a Crossroads development, the Belleayre Resort, on nearby land. CHA has also long been on record opposing this development as economically unsound and environmentally destructive for our region. In particular we have repeatedly and publicly warned that the Resort project, with its massive construction of 629 luxury housing units, a golf course, retention ponds and access roads, sited on steep slopes and thin soils and requiring blasting, would increase runoff and erosion from the mountain, impact reservoirs and aggravate area flooding.
Hurricane Irene was the third “hundred-year” flooding event in our region in the past 15 years. It severely damaged communities in Catskill watershed, and served as another warning that weather patterns are changing, and that we need to plan all development in our area in a way that protects against the real threat of more extreme storms, rather than puts us at more risk. To move ahead with building the Belleayre Resort now would be to ignore that warning and further imperil Catskill communities.
In his announcement of approval of the sale of the Big Indian parcel, Comptroller diNapoli cited “significant administrative cost savings in moving the long-standing permitting process to closure.” The Comptroller deserved and received praise for standing up and rejecting the sale of the Big Indian parcel at the inflated price of $6.3 million. But we don’t believe paying the developer $5.6 million, or around $4700 an acre, for this land is a savings for the State or a good deal for New Yorkers. It is many times the going rate for comparable land and could potentially skew land taxes for individuals, towns, and the State as new parcels are assessed and sold.
But most importantly, we are concerned that the timing of the sale announcement, less than two weeks after Irene struck, could signal the beginning of a more expedited and less transparent push to bring the permitting process for the Belleayre Resort to closure. It would be a terrible mistake to “sell” the Resort development as an economic recovery measure to hard-hit Catskill communities at this vulnerable time.
In the aftermath of Irene, local governments lack the funds to make repairs. The State should be setting clear priorities for recovery and protection of roads, bridges, homes and businesses in the flood zone. Rebuilding our hamlets and infrastructure would create many jobs and should be a priority. Spending millions of State dollars and speeding up the permitting process to help build the Belleayre Resort will not result in the job and economic growth the developer claims and should not be a priority.
It is asserted in press coverage of the land deal that Resort will provide “750 jobs to the area hard hit by the recession and flooding” and “more than 1,800 person-years of direct salaries and wages.” But these claims are unsubstantiated by any study and defy common sense. CHA has repeaterdly warned that building the Resort would harm rather than help the area economy, costing municipalities more in services than it would pay in taxes, and saddling us with an economic white elephant at a time comparable resort projects elsewhere are going bankrupt. Without state and local subsidies, and without drawing traffic away from existing local businesses, the Resort probably won’t stay open, let alone create new jobs.
It’s sheer spin to portray the Resort as any sort of recovery measure from floods or the recession. In fact, rather than expediting permitting, the floods and tough economy are arguments for subjecting this project to a much higher level of scrutiny and transparency. The permitting process must take the time and gather the evidence to properly assess the impacts of the project on Catskill watershed communities in light of the new frequency of extreme weather and severe flooding, and it must give residents ample opportunity to assess and comment on these complex issues.
Hurricane Irene hurt Catskills communities, but it also pulled us together. We are recovering. Streets and businesses are opening up again. What we need now to complete the recovery is to rebuild infrastructure and visitor traffic, not to waste millions in public money subsidizing Crossroads to build the Belleayre Resort.
The Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), www.catskillheritage.org, is a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the harmony between the villages of the central Catskills and the surrounding wilderness through community revitalization and open space conservation.
NOTE TO EDITORS AND PRODUCERS: CHA members and spokespeople are available for interviews on request. Please contact Roger Wall, firstname.lastname@example.org, 646-584-1690.