Today the Mount Sunapee Ski Resort won final state approval to construct a new lift, new trails and a new base lodge in the town of Goshen. The decision comes nearly a year after the state Department of Resources and Economic Development first indicated it would okay the expansion.
It's a decision that comes after years of wrangling, legal fights, and delay on the proposed West Bowl expansion.
Some of the stipulations of the proposal are :
- The resort must transfer 150 acres that would be used for the ski trails, as well as another 260 acres that would remain undeveloped, to the state park.
- The resort will not yet be allowed to construct a proposed “mountain coaster” though the door remains open should the operators try to make that proposal again.
- The state will add an additional ten-year renewal option to the resort’s lease.
- One of the proposed new ski trails has been eliminated.
Jeff Rose, the commissioner of the State Department of Resources and Economic Development, says he believes the expansion strikes the right balance between economic development and environmental protection. While the project will require cutting approximately one acre of trees in a patch of forest that state biologists say could merit legal protections, the state will receive another 260 acres of additional forest land.
“So we’re actually getting some very high quality conservation lands,” says Rose, “And I believe on the totality this is a really good proposal for the state of the New Hampshire, not only for the recreational opportunities, but for the environmental benefits and the economic benefits as well.”
A coalition of locals in favor of the expansion - including a ski shop owner, home builder, and the owner of a bed and breakfast, among others - lauded the decision, calling the proposal "constructive."
Long-time opponents of the expansion were not appeased by concessions that eliminated a ski trail that would have cut through that “exemplary” forest, or by provisions that required a fifty foot set-back from the boundary of the park to any residential development in the land abutting the ski trails.
“If this plan is approved, that land suddenly becomes adjacent to a new ski area,” says Gary Stansfield, vice president of the opposition group Friends of Mount Sunapee, “It seems like a really bad precedent for the state to allow its publicly owned lands to facilitate private financial gain.”
Currently, local zoning prohibits residential development in the area surrounding the ski area, but opponents to the expansion worry that the ski area could be given a variance or push to have the zoning changed.
Coming off the warmest winter on record, Commissioner Rose says he’s unconcerned about what climate change could mean for the prospects of the ski industry in Southern New Hampshire.
“This past winter certainly has not been kind to the ski industry,” says Rose, “This weather has been more of a one year phenomenon, and we had certainly a long, cold, prosperous winter last season, and we’ll look forward long and prosperous seasons for years to come.”
A 2013 study by a Canadian economist predicted warming winters might mean Mount Sunapee could be driven out of business as early as 2040.
The executive council still needs to give final approval for the plan, and they are expected to take up the proposal next week.