Is the $400 million Belleayre Resort and adjoining high-stakes full build out of state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center a done deal, with only the formalities of a few needed state and city permits and planning board reviews in Shandaken and the Delaware County Town of Middletown standing between it and a construction start date?
Not quite, it turns out, as details have started to emerge outlining just where the 12-plus year review process now stands.
Numerous calls to state officials in recent weeks had everyone stating that things were close to a finishing line, but also some confusion as to what remained, review-wise. Creating the problem were several factors: including a formal environmental review process that needed completion after being abandoned by then-governor Eliot Spitzer seven years ago, and a series of carefully wrought but ultimately obtuse statements from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, in charge of the projects, as well as its own expansion plan’s, review.
What’s definite now is this: When Spitzer had the resort developers, New York City Department of Environmental Protection officials, and representatives from nine top environmental organizations sign an “Agreement In Principle” (AIP) towards approvals of a smaller resort, with the state increasing its holdings, a legal SEQR process known as adjudication was put on hold. In other words, the state’s usual review process was put into new territory as details were hammered out…a process that has inevitably taken seven plus years to this point.
The recent brouhaha arose when the DEC’s Office of Hearings and Mediation Services (OHMS) came to the end of its review of that stalled adjudication process and issued a ruling that things could move on. It released huge swaths of stalled environmental impact statements from the developers and DEC, the latter regarding its Unit Management Plan for a ski area expansion, to those various parties who had been asked to sign the AIP back in 2007.
Which is why the materials have not been made public yet; they’re still being reviewed by the adjudication process’ “interested parties,” with the developers and state saying they’ve done their part.
At first, the state wanted its answer quickly, and without another public hearing such as those that occurred in spring of 2013, when hundreds of citizens and environmental group representatives gave testimony before the Administrative Law Judge whose work had been suspended six years earlier. But those parties have since been saying that given the size of the documents, they need more time — 60 days, in fact — in which to put together their comments.
And a growing number of the parties are saying they’d like another public hearing to be held.
“Because of the complexity of the Belleayre Resort and the issues it raises, the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA), Riverkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited and others were recently joined by the Watershed Inspector General in asking for 60 days to review and respond to lengthy documents the DEC issued about the project in September,” notes a press release from the locally-based CHA issued earlier this week. “OHMS decided that the groups have until November 17 to submit their responses; then OHMS will have until December 8 to review them and decide whether to hold an adjudicatory hearing, or to address outstanding issues in some other format.”
Not before Thanksgiving
With the representatives of those other organizations choosing not to speak publicly about the process at this moment, and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection similarly mum on its comments regarding the state’s process, it’s uncertain what will happen, if anything, before Thanksgiving now regarding the whole Belleayre process.
“We hope and expect an adjudicatory hearing will go forward,” the CHA press release continued. “CHA, together with Friends of Catskill Park, Pine Hill Water District Coalition, the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and other public interest groups, will continue to press for them, so that issues that we believe the DEC has not yet adequately addressed can get the public scrutiny and judicial review they deserve.”
The DEC looks at it this way.
“If the motion is granted [to accept the developers’ changed EIS materials and state UMP without further review or hearings], it would end the adjudicatory process before the DEC Office of Hearings and Mediation Services,” state DEC spokesperson Peter Constantakes wrote. “DEC staff could then proceed to formally accept and file the completed EIS for the Belleayre Resort and issue findings and permits. Once the EIS is final, the respective towns could issue findings and permits provided they had otherwise completed their local land use processes. The UMP itself is not part of the existing adjudicatory process.”
Those findings, sources inside of state government who had previously worked for “interested parties” noted, could include requests for mitigation. Or conceivably reject what was proposed.
“The UMP DEIS was subject to a 90-day public comment period, including a legislative public hearing held over two sessions, before an ALJ, on May 29, 2013,” Constantakes later added when asked whether the process was over, or pending per the requests and comments made in the recent CHA release. “This public comment period and legislative hearing also included the Modified Belleayre Resort project and the Cumulative Impact Analysis. There is no public comment period on an FEIS or any requirement to hold a public hearing.”
Findings before local planning boards, sources added, could also modify or reject what was before them. Although, they added, such actions would likely involve future lawsuits.