Stalled Ski Resort Projects In The Deerfield Valley Concern Business Leaders
Two major ski resort expansions have stalled in the Deerfield Valley, and for a region that relies on tourism, that means a loss of potential business and visitors.
A $52 million project at Mount Snow is on hold due to problems with its funding through the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. And at The Hermitage Club, a private ski resort on Haystack Mountain outside Wilmington, a more than $300 million investment is tied up while the company waits for its Act 250 permit.
John Reagan has owned Dot's Restaurant for 36 years.
The restaurant is a favorite for tourists and locals. It's located in the center of Wilmington, where Routes 9 and 100 cross. Dot's is open seven days a week, when people come for the snow, for the foliage, and all summer.
And through it all, Reagan says one thing remains constant.
"We live off the mountains," he says. "In 35 years, that hasn't changed."
Dot's is exactly the type of business that benefits from expansion projects at the nearby ski resorts.
Construction workers are Reagan's most dependable breakfast customers. And he's been around long enough to know that every added hotel room at The Hermitage is a potential customer, and an increase in snow-making at Mount Snow means an increase in traffic.
"It would be ... real, real terrible if both projects came to a complete, permanent halt." - John Reagan, Dot's Restaurant owner
So he's paying close attention to the project delays.
"I think both projects are good for the area," he says. "Whether you like them or not, they're the ones that people are coming to see and we've got to find our own little niche to grab whatever we can. You know, it would be a shame if either one of the projects couldn't go forward. And it would be terrible — real, real terrible — if both projects came to a complete, permanent halt."
The Hermitage opened in 2011, and owner Jim Barnes says he's got families lined up who want to purchase condos and homes on the mountain.
There's been little public opposition to The Hermitage's plan for expansion, but the company ran into Act 250 problems concerning wildlife habitat and wetlands.
And without the permit, Barnes had to put a hold on his project.
Just last month, The Hermitage filed a new Act 250 plan with some of the more contentious parts removed, and Barnes hopes to have his permit soon.
"Quite frankly, everybody wants to go back to work." - Jim Barnes, Hermitage Club owner
"From my standpoint, and for the hundreds of employees that work here, and for the hundreds of contractors and other people that have businesses in the area, we're all crossing our fingers that this gets approved," Barnes says. "Because our financing going forward to do any of this is all subject to the Act 250 master plan, and quite frankly, everybody wants to go back to work."
Just down the ridge, Mount Snow wants to add hotel rooms and expand its snowmaking.
The company got approval to raise $52 million through the EB-5 program, which allows foreign investors to pay at least $500,000 into job-creating projects in exchange for a U.S. visa.
The program is at the center of an alleged scheme to defraud investors at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, but at Mount Snow, it's a slow-moving approval process at the federal level that's tying up the money.
A spokesman at Mount Snow declined to comment on the sensitive issue, but the mountain will go through this upcoming winter without the extra rooms and expanded snowmaking it was hoping for.
Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Sharon Cunningham says Wilmington bounced back pretty well from Tropical Storm Irene. The storm ravaged Wilmington and millions of dollars in loans and grants helped bring the town back.
In some ways, Cunningham says, Wilmington is in much better shape that it was before Irene. So it kind of drives her crazy to think of all that money being tied up now.
"It would be great if there was just a little bit less red tape and the process was moving a little bit more smoothly for both of our mountains." - Sharon Cunningham, Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce director
"For our community to continue to grow and thrive, everybody needs to follow the rules, but it would be great if there was just a little bit less red tape, and the process was moving a little bit more smoothly for both of our mountains, honestly," she says.
Construction crews spend money, and she knows with a few hundred fewer rooms up on the mountains, there will be that much less cash circulating.
"The more visitors we bring to the Valley, the better restaurants, retailers, lodging, and everybody does," she says. "We don't have a whole lot of manufacturing here. Our industry is tourism. So it's Mount Snow and The Hermitage, those are our two big drivers of the economy here."
Business in the Deerfield Valley goes season to season, and both ski resorts had to give up on the construction season this year.
Down in the valley, the crowds will start showing up for foliage, and everyone is hoping for a long, cold, snowy winter.