Belleayre backers fear cutbacks or shutdown
By Jay Braman Jr., Correspondent
09/11/2008Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendly
HIGHMOUNT - Efforts have begun to halt what appears to be a plan by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to sharply reduce the operating budget for the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, which is run by the DEC.
Action began on Monday, the same day town of Shandaken officials learned that state budget cuts could result in the ski center - which is in the town and crucial to the local economy - having a much shorter season than usual in 2008-09 or perhaps not opening at all.
That night, the Town Board unanimously approved a resolution to call for help.
"Shandaken strongly urges the following entities to take issue with these cuts, as it could dramatically damage employment rates, lodging business, retail business and the number of visitors to the town and its tourism-based economic needs," the resolution states.
The resolution - which was sent to Gov. David Paterson, the state Senate and Assembly, the Ulster County Legislature, the DEC and others - calls for the rescinding of any recent or planned cuts at Belleayre, including the popular Oktoberfest, a Columbus Day staple that has been canceled for this year.
Joe Kelly, of the Coalition of Watershed Towns, said the Oktoberfest typically draws 16,000 people.
In calling for help, Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani noted that Belleayre "was created under a constitutional amendment to help enhance recreational opportunities for the general public as well as provide a boost to an otherwise economically depressed area ... during difficult winter seasons."
Kelly said the Coalition of Watershed Towns has called an emergency meeting to review Belleayre budget issues and develop a strategy for addressing them.
"We had buses in Albany in March, and we might need to get them up there again in October," he said. "At this point, we need to talk with others in the region and figure out a plan of attack. But this I can say for sure: We've been fighting for this ski center for more than a quarter of a century and, except in 1984, when (then-Gov.) Mario Cuomo tried to close it, this is as bad as it gets. We will not sit back quietly and let the state and the DEC make up their budget crisis on our backs."
State Sen. John Bonacic said the DEC's plan for Belleayre is unclear.
"I have asked the DEC about any contemplated reductions in state funding for Belleayre," said Bonacic, R-Mount Hope. "They tell me no determination has been made."
Bonacic, long an advocate for Belleayre, has regularly appeared at the ski center in the early fall to announce funding for improvements, but no such announcement is expected this year.
Bonacic does, however, expect money that he already has secured for Belleayre to stay at the facility.
"Given the approximately $20 million I have successfully fought to provide Belleayre for various improvements over the last eight years, it is important that Belleayre have the ability to utilize that funding to follow through, complete those projects and continue to be the success it is," the senator said.
Ulster County Legislator Brian Shapiro, a Woodstock Democrat who represents Shandaken, called the possible cuts "outrageous" and vowed to assemble a lobbying group to fight them.©Daily Freeman 2008