ORDA takeover of Belleayre raises hopes, suspicions

As everyone starts to work their way through the state budget passed last week, gleaning what bones got buried in what communities in place of the old Member Items, one thing became certain — operational control of the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center shifted out from under the state Department of Environmental Conservation and was handed over to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which manages the Olympic facilities in Lake Placid and Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski areas in the Adirondacks.

This announcement came after consternation from almost all sides about earlier elements of such a deal. The chief deal-breakers had to do with the Catskills’ lack of representation within ORDA management, and worries that a move from the over-busy DEC to a distant agency based four hours to the north would be like jumping from frying pan to fire…not a great idea for any ski area.

But now, parameters of the new ORDA deal call for the naming of five new members to ORDA’s seven-member board, one of whose members is state DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, within 90 days. Among the additions will be the Commissioner of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, someone from the Empire State Development Corporation, and the agency’s CEO and President, Ted Blazer. Two more are to be from the Catskills, with one of those to be named directly by the town boards of the ski area’s host towns, with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s final approval.


Over the weekend, it emerged that one of those two local members should be a rare example of easy agreement around the ski center. The other seems to already getting stuck in the muddy controversy that’s surrounded Belleayre over the past decade, due to its tie-in to a massive hotel and resort development planned for neighboring properties in Shandaken and its neighboring town of Middletown in Delaware County.

On the non-controversial side of things, both political parties in the county legislature came together to name John Parete, owner of the Boiceville Inn in Olive, a  longtime Route 28 business, their choice for an Ulster County representative for the ORDA board.

Ulster County Legislators introduced a resolution in support of naming Parete, who is also a county legislator representing Shandaken, Olive and other Catskills towns, that will be voted on next week.

“John Parete not only represents Belleayre in the County Legislature, but he owns a restaurant and is in the hospitality business,” said Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo, a Republican, of the former chairman of the Ulster County Democratic Party in a press release. “He has tremendous people skills, and enjoys wide-spread bi-partisan support. He is really uniquely situated to represent Ulster County on a Board like ORDA. People will listen to John.”

Parete says he knows how to be effective.

“I guess it’s a combination of my charm and my willingness to get along with people that made this happen. I am thrilled to death that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted for me. I guess it pays to never pick fights,” said Parete of the impending appointment this week. “I can certainly be a strong advocate for Belleayre and the entire region…we really need some help here. And I certainly know a lot of people who have been hurting.”

Parete described himself as having started skiing at Belleayre after he turned 50.

“I go down the longest, shallowest slopes they have. My great joy is being outside for as long as I can, and then having a nice glass of wine before going to work,” he said. “I’ve been to two Olympics in my life, in Lillehammer, Norway back in the early 1960s, and then to Lake Placid. Does that make me a snow bunny? Call me a beginner who doesn’t want to get hurt…but also someone who loves Belleayre Mountain dearly.”


Resort-friendly rep? 

As for the other rep to be named, that’s where battle lines are already being drawn, with some saying that the nature of the beast would be to see someone now named from Delaware County, as a rep, to keep things fair.

Behind the decision, though, is less geographic worry than an interest in how ORDA proceeds with long-dormant plans for the Belleayre Resort, once approved for a $45 million state investment, and ski in-ski out tie-ins to the mountain, in a much-touted agreement five years ago.

Crossroads Ventures has plans for 629 luxury housing units and a golf course as part of its plans for the Belleayre Resort. Among various comments for the new ORDA takeover this past week came a long litany of concerns from the Catskill Heritage Alliance, which has long questioned the appropriateness of the plans put forth by Crossroads.

“The State’s stated rationale for the change was that it would be more efficient, and that current DEC management was failing and losing money. But we commissioned an independent study that showed this wasn’t true, and that in fact ORDA management would introduce new risks and challenges for Belleayre,” writes CHA President Roger Wall in a press release that came out earlier this week. “We worried that the ulterior motive for the change was to access ORDA’s bonding authority and other powers that would open a back channel to State funding for the Belleayre Resort, an enormous, private, steep-slope luxury condo and hotel project proposed by developer Dean Gitter, which CHA opposes as economically and environmentally destructive, and which has divided this community for a decade.”

Continuing, Wall called for greater scrutiny of ORDA and its approach to Belleayre development in general, and urged the appointment of at least one board member from the Catskills region “who is not pro-Resort.”

Could that be Parete?

“I still have to get the legislature’s approval and an okay from the Governor,” said the longtime Belleayre skier. “I supported Maurice Hinchey’s compromise plan, which removed the development from the eastern slopes of the Big Indian area, and feel the DEC have done a decent job with things… All the other stuff’s got to bubble up on its own now.”++