Letter: Don’t let Sunapee go way of Okemo

My Turn: Don’t let Sunapee go way of Okemo

By DEB FLANDERS For the Monitor

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, November 12, 2014)

Eleven years ago, many Sunapee area locals fought tooth and nail to prevent the Mueller’s Okemo Corp. from expanding down the west side of Mount Sunapee, with plans to build trails, 250 condos and a base area in Goshen.

Thanks to then-Gov. John Lynch, the plan was not approved by the state.

I am a skier who grew up racing on Mount Sunapee. After a stint on the U.S. National Ski Team, I went on to coach ski racing for 28 years at several Western ski resorts before returning to my roots here in Newbury.

The reason I am opposed to expansion is that I saw and lived through the detrimental changes to the ski town character and the ski experience once the big corporations took over the areas.

I have lived in Colorado (Vail, Winter Park), California (Mammoth, Heavenly Valley), Crystal Mountain in Washington and Park City in Utah. Finally, in 2002, I left Vail simply because the housing became impossibly expensive and the town had become unfriendly to locals, with gated communities and an imported immigrant labor force that kept wages low.

I thought Sunapee would surely be safe from the rampant ski company development that had so changed the character of the Western ski towns. Wrong!

Many would argue that the skiing experience has been enhanced by high-speed lifts, widened ski trails with groomed 1-foot berms on the side so you can’t go into the woods, loud music in the terrain park and expanded snowmaking capabilities.

Nowadays, skiing is not the quiet and pristine activity it once was.

Local legend Herbert Welsh would agree that the enhancements the resort has made are not what he would have wanted for the forests that he worked so hard to save. Now the proposal to expand is back on the table, minus any explanation of what they want to do on the base land in Goshen, which Tim Mueller has bought under the name of several different LLCs (which list Mount Sunapee Manager Jay Gamble as agent).

In the meantime, at Okemo, the Muellers are putting in another expansion to a mountain that is already hacked to bits. Will they do that here also? These are questions that need to be addressed fully in the master plan, as the community character of this area will be at risk.

The town of Ludlow, Vt., at the base of Okemo, has changed tremendously since the early 1980s when the Muellers came to town and started building lifts and on-hill condo units. The economics of the town have changed.

Eleven years ago, a group of Goshen residents visited Ludlow and talked to the locals. This is what they heard:

  • Property taxes more than doubled when Ludlow became a “donor town” due to an increase in property values.
  • Eighty-five percent of the homes were owned by out-of-staters because the locals could not afford to buy them.
  • Okemo lawyers lobbied for and got the residential density requirement misconstrued from its original one-acre zoning per residence (meaning one family) to one acre per residence, which could house a 100-unit development.
  • In winter, it can take 45 minutes to drive through town.
  • The mountain’s sewage effluent is dumped in to a river where no fishing, swimming or drinking is allowed within six miles.
  • Most locals cannot afford to ski or play golf.
  • Most small businesses in Ludlow are gone; locals shop in Claremont or Rutland.
  • Okemo had kept pushing to amend permits, relentlessly going for special exceptions on density and height, visibility and landscaping.

Gamble, Mount Sunapee’s manager, has called this all “Chicken Little” talk and has said he does not see this area as a pristine state park but rather as a commercial ski area.

Whose job is it then to watch out for the pristine part of the park that is threatened now?

It has been said that the state feels no obligation to have a public process on the expansion plan, but old growth forests and critically imperiled plants, such as the yellow lady’s slipper, are all ignored in the resort’s environmental impact study in the 2014 master development plan and would all be torn up by the west bowl trails and lift.

To me, those exemplary forests make that part of the area pristine, and Herbert Welsh would agree. If you want to help save our public lands, please write letters to Gov. Maggie Hassen and join the Friends of Mount Sunapee
(Deb Flanders lives in Newbury.)

 

 

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