Sunapee Expansion? Not So Fast…

Thursday [March 17, 2016], DRED Commissioner Jeffrey Rose announced his approval of Mount Sunapee Resort’s plan to expand the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park. The plan, first introduced in 2014, has taken Rose twenty months to digest. Now Governor Hassan and Executive Council are supposed to analyze the hundreds of pages of documents that compose this plan and make a decision next Wednesday? Something doesn’t pass the smell test here. What’s the big hurry?

When the state first leased Mount Sunapee State Park’s ski operation in 1998 it soon became painfully obvious that state officials had rushed through the process without proper oversight. The result was nearly fifteen years of costly, taxpayer funded litigation after the location of the new lease area boundary became contentious.

This new expansion plan looks like a sweetheart deal for the corporate entity that runs the ski resort, but doesn’t look so great for the rest of us.

The plan will suddenly turn the abutting large tract of private land owned by the resort operators into a valuable commodity ripe for development. Using public land to facilitate corporate gain sets a slippery precedent for other state owned lands. The first priority of the NH State Park system is “To protect and preserve unusual scenic, scientific, historical, recreational and natural areas of the state.”

The expansion will carve a new ski lift line directly through the heart of legally protected “exemplary natural community” that hosts trees over 200 years old. The state’s largest conservation organizations have expressed deep concerns regarding the expansion. Will our governor risk alienating the green vote, and approve a plan that violates state environmental law, in order to provide a handout to a corporate entity?

Speaking of corporate entities…The current ski area lease holder, CNL Lifestyle Properties, an Orlando, Florida based real estate investment trust, publicly announced its intent to sell off the ski lease in 2015, and has been unsuccessful so far, in finding a buyer. Should our governor and council approve a deal of this magnitude without even knowing the identity of the future lease holder?

This winter’s weather highlights the absurdity of linking the region’s economic future to a ski industry that is likely in decline. Although Commissioner Rose publicly dismissed climate change concerns yesterday, climate scientists have stated that the future looks bleak for the ski industry in New England. Will Governor Hassan side with climate change deniers as she runs for a Senate seat?

These questions could be answered as soon as next Wednesday when Governor Hassan and Executive Council are scheduled to vote on the expansion. They, especially those with higher political aspirations, should move to table this plan. Green voters have long memories.

Gary Stansfield, Vice-President

Friends of Mount Sunapee

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