TUPPER LAKE - The mostly volunteer group that has run the Big Tupper Ski Area for the last three years, ARISE, announced Tuesday night that it won't open the ski slope again this year.
The leadership of ARISE, or Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy, decided over the last few weeks that they can't open the ski slope this year because they don't have the money to do so.
ARISE Chairman Jim LaValley blames the people who are suing the state for the state Adirondack Park Agency's approval of the development project planned for the mountain, saying the lawsuit by Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and three nearby landowners is forcing Big Tupper to close.
A skier and a snowboarder ride Chair 2 at Big Tupper Ski Area on March 3.
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)
LaValley told the Enterprise Tuesday night that when the APA approved the ACR in January, the group had the promise of $100,000 to $200,000 from people looking to buy into the development, and part of that money would have been earmarked for the ski slope.
"The Article 78 (lawsuit) pulled the rug out from under some of that," LaValley said. "The actions of a few are costing many.
"I do hold these guys 100 percent responsible."
Protect board member Bob Glennon, a lawyer who was once the APA's executive director, told the Enterprise this morning that the lack of snow last winter, not the lawsuit, is the reason ARISE doesn't have enough money.
The ski slope, which runs only on natural snow, was only able to open about 11 days in the 2011-12 ski season.
LaValley said the industry standard is that it takes about two years to recover from a bad ski season.
THE ADIRONDACK CLUB AND RESORT, proposed by a Pennsylvania-based investment group called Preserve Associates, would overhaul the Big Tupper Ski Area in Tupper Lake and build out the land around it with about 650 luxury housing units and various amenities including an inn, a spa and an equestrian center. The project received permits from the state Adirondack Park Agency on Jan. 20 after eight years of negotiating, reworking the application and an extensive adjudicatory hearing.
In March, two environmental groups and three nearby landowners filed a lawsuit to challenge the APA's decision. That suit is working its way through state courts.
The project must also obtain a number of other approvals, including from the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the local town-village planning board.
"We are being blamed for everything from global warming to spouse abuse," Glennon said. "The rumor that they were not going to run this year has been around for quite a while. I'm not surprised, and no, we didn't do it."
Glennon said he doesn't buy the assertion that the ACR is losing investors due to the lawsuit.
"They've been going around for months saying they had investors poised and ready and flush with money," he said. "Who are the investors? Let them come forth."
ARISE held a number of fundraisers the first year it opened Big Tupper in the winter of 2009-10, after the ski area had been closed for a decade. But the last two years the number of fundraisers has dwindled. LaValley said ARISE was concerned about "going back to the pot" too frequently, so the group decided this year to keep it to three major fundraisers: a golf tournament held Saturday and two events that haven't happened yet, OkTupperfest and the annual Snow Ball.
OkTupperfest is planned for Saturday, Oct. 6. LaValley said that event will still happen, and the group will probably still hold the Snow Ball. He said they hope to put the money toward scholarships and other programs to help Tupper Lake's kids get to other ski areas to keep them skiing, and possibly toward redirecting ARISE's efforts into other economic development initiatives.
After the first year, when enthusiasm was high, LaValley said donations dropped off and ARISE has had to run the ski area more like a business.
"We struggled the last two seasons to get the volunteers, to operate the lifts," LaValley said.
Due to the poor ski season last year, he wasn't expecting as many people to buy season passes this year.
He said that while ARISE leadership could project enough money to open for the ski season, they were worried that they would get midway through the season and not have enough money to continue.
They put out feelers to see if there was a "fairy godmother" that could support the ski area this year, but LaValley said the response was, "What happens next year and the year after?"
He said this lawsuit was expected on the APA permit, but now he is worried Protect will sue for each permit that still needs to be obtained by the ACR: from the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the town-village planning board. He's also heard rumblings that Protect is looking at an Article 78 suit accusing collusion between ARISE and the ACR developers, something Protect has publicly alleged.
"(Protect attorney John) Caffry, Glennon and (Protect director Peter) Bauer have made it very clear that they're going to keep coming," LaValley said.
Based on that expectation, LaValley estimated that it could be three to six more years before ACR developers could put their money into operating the ski slope.
LaValley and other ARISE leadership met with Big Tupper volunteers at P-2's Irish Pub Tuesday night, at a meeting scheduled for the same time as a long-anticipated public forum on the completion of a nine-month feasibility study on a new fire hall. P-2's manager Rick Donah is the village trustee who oversees the fire department and has been driving the study. LaValley said the scheduling conflict was inadvertent.
LaValley said volunteers were shocked when they heard the news.
"There was a lot of emotion," LaValley said. "Some were surprised; some understand."
A number of Tupper Lakers also took to Facebook Tuesday night, launching insults and obscenities at the people bringing the lawsuit as they shared the announcement posted on the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce's website.
When asked if this was a political decision to sway public opinion, LaValley said, "My books are open. I'm more than glad to show anybody. Financially, we can't do it."
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.