Greenville community disappointed in ski resort plans falling apart

GREENVILLE — Community members who hoped for a redeveloped ski resort and flourishing Moosehead Lake region are disappointed that the developer has halted the ambitious project.

The developers working to revitalize a partially defunct ski resort in Piscataquis County told Eastern Maine Development Corp. leaders last week that they would end their plans for the $126.3 million project.

The decision surprised some residents and business people because the developer, Perry Williams of Big Lake Development LLC, secured a state permit just two months ago — a bright spot after several years of planning and delays. Some predicted the proposal’s downfall, believing a project of this magnitude was doomed, even with county and state support. Still others said they were skeptical from the start after the demise of Plum Creek, an even larger scale residential development proposed in 2005.

Piscataquis County Manager Michael Williams hopes another developer or group will step in to carry the project forward because the permit is valid for two years, he said. The redevelopment was designed to bring hundreds of jobs and a much-needed economic boost to the region.

“It has a trickle-down effect across the county when you have that kind of development,” he said. “It’s disappointing in that sense.”

Mainers also expressed mixed reactions to the news on social media. While some said they were sorry for residents and business owners, others suggested bigger projects aren’t always better, especially in rural areas. The state should get involved, some argued, because conflict over the resort has gone on for far too long.

Some people directed their frustration toward James Confalone, who has owned the resort since 1995 and closed it in 2010 after it fell into disrepair. But he worked with Williams through 20 contract extensions because he was ready to sell the property, Confalone said.

Confalone has appealed a Kennebec County Superior Court justice’s ruling in favor of the state that ordered him to pay more than $4.5 million in damages because he failed to maintain the ski resort.

Developers faced bad timing, bureaucratic tape and exponential construction and material costs, which Helen Schacht thinks ultimately hurt its efforts. Schacht, who was supportive of the redevelopment but not surprised that it crumbled, owns the Mud Puddle Mercantile in Greenville.

“It was quite an undertaking,” she said. “I was really hoping for it. I think the biggest thing was the cost — that’s the thing that really finished it off.”

Supporters saw the redevelopment as a benefit to businesses like Schacht’s that operate seasonally and close during slow periods.

Nonprofit group Friends of the Mountain is dedicated to maintaining the lower portion of the mountain each winter, especially for locals and area children, Schacht said. She imagines volunteers, who had also counted on the ski area’s revival, are tired of running the resort as part of an agreement with Confalone.

Moosehead Region Futures Committee — a residents watchdog group that seeks to limit harm from commercial and industrial development — maintained that from the outset of its involvement in the permitting process, the nonprofit did not oppose the redevelopment.

Rather, the group thought regulators should have considered proposals to construct a 200-slip marina and more than 400 residential units at the same time as the first phase of the project because they were inextricably linked financially, according to a statement provided by secretary Chris King.

The year-round ski resort would include a detachable chairlift to the top of the mountain, base lodge that could function as a conference center, 63-room hotel, taphouse and restaurant, a zip-line tour ride and more in its first phase, Williams said during a June public hearing in Greenville.

The Moosehead Region Futures Committee “hopes that an economically viable and legally sufficient means of reopening chairlift service to the top of the mountain can be created in the future,” King said.

The Big Moose Mountain property contains unique and exciting assets for redevelopment, said Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The state remains committed to helping attract new investment and economic opportunities to the region and Piscataquis County, she said.

Liz McKeil, who volunteers for the ski patrol, was born in Greenville, grew up in Gorham and returned in 2012 because she considers it her home. It has been heartbreaking to watch the mountain deteriorate over the years, she said, but she remains hopeful that the developer can find new investors or someone to manage the redevelopment.

“Something like the mountain would have been a game changer for us,” she said. “It would have meant a year-round economy. It would have meant an increase in population.”

It would also result in more children living in the community, meaning more funding for Greenville Consolidated School and other local resources, like Northern Light C.A. Dean Hospital, she said.

The community went through a similar scenario with Plum Creek, which was delayed to the extent that it was no longer viable, McKeil said. But the area needs revamping — not to the degree of Bar Harbor or Cape Cod but manageable change — in order to have a feasible economy, she said.

“I’d like this to be a place where my kids could come,” McKeil said. “I’d like to think they could make a living here. It’s disappointing, but I’m the eternal optimist. I hope they [developers] find a way to move forward.”

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