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Greenville-area residents weigh redevelopment for Moosehead Lake ski resort

Summit of Big Moose Mountain overlooking Moosehead Lake.
Esta Pratt-Kielley
Maine Public
Summit of Big Moose Mountain overlooking Moosehead Lake.

The Land Use Planning Commission is considering applications from Big Lake Development, which wants to tear down an existing hotel, base lodge and chairlift and replace them with modern facilities.

And they want to add an event center, tap room and ziplines with the goal of transforming the mountain into a year-round resort.

But some local residents said they've seen this kind of plan before. And many expressed skepticism, fearing new developers will fail or neglect the property the way they say current owner Jim Confalone has.

"It's bloated, and there's no way it works as is," said local resident John Hussey. "And one more thing, unless you have all the property and get rid of Confalone completely, remove him, no one should touch this project."

Under Confalone's ownership, a ski lift failed and injured four people. He's also facing a lawsuit from the state, which wants him to pay about $4 million in damages.

"The idea is to work with the attorney general's office to settle that lawsuit, so that liability goes away with the sale," said Perry Williams, managing partner for Big Lake Development.

But given the ski area's troubled history, some residents, including members of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, say they're concerned about the project's financing. They aren't convinced the developers have demonstrated they can make the mountain a financial success.

"We want to see something up on that mountain that lets everybody go back to the top the way everyone here wants," said Chris King, the committee's secretary. "Something that will last, unlike what we've seen over the last couple decades, and something that will be permanent. And so we hope that the developer will be able to provide the necessary information to allow you to approve the application, but they haven't to this point."

Costs have risen since the developer first submitted permit applications to the regulatory commission last March. The current price tag for the project is more than $126 million. The developers also say they'll foot a $3 million bill to connect the resort to local sewer lines, another point of concern for the Moosehead Region Futures Committee.

But others, including local resident Rodney Folsom, said it's time the community embraces the plan.

"I don't know that we'll see a perfect buyer that has everything lined up, with all the credit and funding before he even starts," he said. "We've seen this mountain open and close so many times. We need to give this guy a chance."

Many who offered public comment recalled times when the mountain was thriving, when the parking lots were overflowing with visitors and local motels were booked during the winter. They believe the project would be an economic boon to a community that's struggled in recent years. County resident Scott Wellman said he'd like to stay local to ski, rather than driving to Rangeley or Saddleback.

"This will help the whole area grow," he said. "The people in this area, really all of Piscataquis County, need something to bring more people here and have things that we can enjoy doing at home, and not always need to go away to go places."

The developers say the resort will create between 250 and 300 new jobs. They say they also intend to build designated housing for resort workers, in addition to several hundred new residences.

But that isn't part of the application currently under review with the Land Use Planning Commission.

Commissioners now have about 60 days to issue a decision on the project.