The three Mt. Sunapee contract changes and what next

The Friends of Mount Sunapee (FOMS) believes the owners of the state park, the people of New Hampshire, should have an integral role in guiding the future of their mountain park. However, it is no simple matter. Complex agreements govern the management and development of the state-owned ski area, which now has a new operator, industry giant Vail Resorts. 

In October, the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources  (DNCR) asked the Governor and Executive Council (G&C) to approve changes to the Lease and Operating Agreement with Vail Resorts. The Council reviews state contracts.

In late September, Vail acquired the lease and Mount Sunapee Resort, which operates the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park. The leasehold area encompasses approximately 1,135 acres of public land.

Before the Sunapee transaction closed, the Attorney General’s office (with DNCR direction) negotiated with Vail a side agreement that details specific changes to the lease. The terms affect public involvement and oversight and future development of the Park, including the controversial West Bowl expansion.

The lease amendment sent to G&C in October addresses:

  1. Change of control regarding the assignment, transfer, and sale of equity interest;
  2. West Bowl development; and
  3. Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission

What next?

Before a Council vote, the contract amendment (or amendments) need to return to the G&C agenda. Mount Sunapee is not on the agenda for the G&C meeting scheduled for Dec. 5.

Agendas are posted on the Friday before the Wednesday meetings of the G&C.

FOMS: Mt. Sunapee contract needs to protect the public interest

In a letter sent to G&C, FOMS expressed its opposition to the lease changes presented to G&C in October. The amendment, as worded, fails to protect the public interest including the State’s financial interest.

FOMS Position

Change of Control: This provision would allow the Vail to parcel out and manipulate the equity interest in the lease without State review and approval. We believe state government needs to follow an open public process before approving any transfers of the lease in part or whole.

West Bowl Development: This provision is both premature and inadequate. Vail has presented no development plans for the existing or an expanded ski area. Nor has Vail addressed the environmental concerns associated developing Sunapee’s western flank.

In the letter sent to the Governor and Executive Council on behalf of FOMS, Attorney Arthur Cunningham wrote:

“Any consideration of the West Bowl expansion should not occur until such time as the plans and specifications for the West Bowl expansion are complete. The plans and specifications must include any plans for development on the private property owned by Operator and any successors and assigns of any interest in the Lease…”

(Vail’s acquisition of The Sunapee Difference voided the 2016 West Bowl lease amendment granted to the prior operator.)

Advisory Commission: This lease term circumvents the legislative mandate that requires a commission to administer the lease vs. advise at the call of the Commissioner. The RSA, adopted in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2017, calls for an Administration Commission to oversee the ski area lease.

FOMS letter to G&C speaks to the specific provisions in the amendment with suggested contract language. See FOMS Publications.

Questions and concerns arise over Sunapee amendment

When the Sunapee contract changes came before the Executive Council in October, questions and concerns emerged.

Oct. 17 – The Executive Council voted 5-0 to table the Amendment and asked for more information.

Oct. 23 – Councilors Russell Prescott and Andru Volinsky participated in an Executive Council informational meeting, which delved into the history of the park, its natural heritage, and the three lease changes and whether the Council could vote on the revisions separately.

Oct. 31 – Councilor Prescott questioned DNCR authority and the Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission in an exchange with Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

Prescott asserted that the N.H. legislature called for a commission to administer and oversee the ski area lease, not to advise.

The West Bowl and other lease issues are mute “if we haven’t gotten to the crux of who is in charge,” said Prescott, who recommended adhering to the law.

An Administration and Oversight Commission is one of several items in FOMS Mount Sunapee comments submitted to State officials.

Nov. 14  – No Sunapee discussion occurred when G&C met.

G&C: Listen or view the Mt. Sunapee discussion

Add your voice 

Send your Mount Sunapee comments to the Executive Council members:

Joseph D. Kenney, Andru Volinsky, Russell E. Prescott,
Christopher C. Pappas, and David K. Wheeler.

More helpful resources

Update to this post (Dec. 2, 2018): Mount Sunapee does not appear on the agenda for the Governor and Executive Council meeting on Wed., Dec. 5, 2018.

Copyright 2019 Friends of Mount Sunapee