The absolute World Champion of SEQRA environmental reviews — take heed Niagara Bottling, Wilmorite, Williams Lake, and you other Type 1 thousand-page EIS cowboys — the now nearly 14 year epic over Crossroads Ventures’ Belleayre Resort, has been reported, even by us, to be just about there, almost over. After the pitched battles, the years of court struggle, a million public meetings, tractor-trailer billboards, the adjudicatory process cut short by Governor Spitzer (remember him?) and his Agreement in Principal that was supposed to move things to a conclusion, it’s been touted as finally over the hump, ready for the final stroke, the local planning boards…
But wait a moment…a new state memo regarding the project is causing confusion in the Catskills, as well as a possible delay in the final steps of the SEQRA process.
In a November 19 email, NYS department of Environmental Conservation Assistant Commissioner for Hearings and Mediation Services Louis A. Alexander wrote to a number of regional and national environmental organizations as well as the resort’s developers and several contiguous neighbors in response to a pair of direct requests that a court-case like “issues conference” suspended in 2006 be reconvened.
“At the direction of the Commissioner, the time for the other parties to respond to the motion of the Friends of Catskill Park is suspended until after submission of Department staff’s reply to the responses to Department staff’s motion,” read Alexander’s note. “Any schedule for responses to Friends of Catskill Park’s motion to reconvene, and for responses to any cross-motion filed by Catskill Heritage Alliance, will be established thereafter.”
Opponents of the resort at first saw the memo as signs of an imminent victory; they read it as saying that a full issues conference was likely to be resumed.
Throughout 2006, a state DEC administrative law judge heard testimony and arguments from attorneys and representatives for eleven environmental organizations come together as the Catskill Preservation Coalition (CPC) in an attempt to determine issues to be decided legally around Crossroads Ventures proposal for a two-hotel resort in the Belleayre region of the Central Catskills. The ALJ hearing the conference, Richard Wissler, ended up ruling for 12 issues to proceed to a trial-like setting, after which the DEC commissioner whittled the number of allowable issues down to six, with a seventh being appealed by the CPC.
Throughout 2007, parties were brought together by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to discuss those issues, with the result being a September, 2007 “Agreement in Principle” that cut the overall size of the resort proposal and committed it to a tie-in with an expanded state-owned Belleayre Mountain ski area. Seven of the 11 CPC members signed on to the AIP, which has taken another seven years to get into final review shape.
One step at a time
Kathy Nolan of the Catskill Heritage Alliance said this week that as far as she could tell, the Alexander memo was not as good as it looked at first glance. In her view, it was all about his department, and DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens making a decision in an area that the CHA and other project opponents feel isn’t theirs to make. According to Nolan, adjudication is its own legal arena, and any decision regarding the outcome of the long-pending issues conference, any decided-upon issues, and the discarding of any legal issues was for an administrative law judge to make.
Furthermore, she noted, the new filings being looked at by the state — which include responses from all parties to the AIP to see whether review materials address what was talked about and agreed to seven years ago — have to reflect all concerns from those eleven CPC parties, and not just those who signed off on the 2007 AIP.
Dan Ruzow, longstanding attorney for the Belleayre Resort’s developers, said this week that, “the state’s simply moving one step at a time. They have to look at what they have in response to the materials submitted first, and then they can hear new arguments and welcome comments from new parties such as those neighbors seeking party status.”
Those “neighbors” include the owners of the Galli-Curci mansion, which would basically be surrounded by the new resort, and the massive Gould estate to the west of Belleayre, now affected by the tie-ins to an expanded ski area on the western slopes of the mountain.
“To me, it’s logical for the commissioner to do this,” Ruzow said. “Everyone has to sort out any remaining substantive issues here.”
Alexander’s memo, meanwhile, mentioned several upcoming dates, including a December 8 final submission request from Catskill Heritage Alliance. But Ruzow said that according to what he’s heard, the commissioner has not set a timeline on when he’s going to complete his response to the new issues identifying steps now set in motion.
UCPB ready to go
On other fronts, meanwhile, Dennis Doyle of the Ulster County Planning Department said this week that he’s gone and scheduled the whole resort, and its developers, for review in January, 2015. As far as he was concerned, he’s been hearing that project review is also about to start on the town level in Shandaken, as well as in neighboring Delaware County and the Town of Middletown.
Finally, the state DEC sent out a “layman’s” explanation of the convoluted memo from Alexander.
“The November 19th communication informed the various parties that any schedule to respond to Friends of Catskill Park’s motion to reconvene the issues conference will not be established until after December 8,” wrote spokesman Peter Constantakes in a “clarification” dated November 25. “This will allow DEC staff time to reply to responses received on DEC staff’s motion to cancel the adjudicatory hearing.”