By Chris Jensen
LANCASTER — The developers of the Balsams won’t begin expanding the ski slopes this summer as planned and it is unlikely work will start before next year because it’s taking longer than expected to work through regulatory issues.
Work needs to begin this year if there is any hope of having the slopes open “at the earliest” in December 2017, Dixville official Ed Brisson has said.
One of those regulatory issues is approval of an alteration-of-terrain permit from the Department of Environmental Services. The Balsams’ developer, Dixville Capital LLC, has yet to seek the permit and approval, which typically takes at least two or three months.
The AOT permit “protects New Hampshire surface waters, drinking water supplies and groundwater by controlling soil erosion and managing storm water runoff from developed areas,” according to the state Department of Environmental Services.
Another issue is the Coos Planning Board approval of the site plan for expanding the ski area, a key part of developer Les Otten’s revival plan.
The planning board first considered the site plan in April and told Dixville Capital that they had not provided the required information.
At a meeting Tuesday evening, exasperated board members told officials from Dixville Capital LLC that – once again – it does not have all the information required to even consider the application complete. That’s the first step in the approval process.
“I want these guys to succeed, I want that hotel open, I want to see the ski area open,” said Mike Waddell, a board member from Gorham. But, Waddell said, Dixville Capital needs to produce the same information that would be required for any project.
At issue is Dixville Capital’s request to have the board approve the entire plan to increase the skiable area from about 135 to as many as 1,800 acres, including 800 acres of glade skiing.
But some board members, including chair John Scarinza, said that the plan lacks many of the required details. The more manageable alternative would be to consider only the first phase, Scarinza said.
That phase would add about 180 acres, bringing the total to 250, Dixville Capital official Burt Mills said.
But Mills said it would help the project move along if the developer could get overall approval now for the entire project and provide details as the expansion progresses, which would happen over many years.
“I think you guys should follow and receive the same treatment as anybody else coming before the board,” said Waddell. “In truth you have received extra-special treatment based on what this can provide to the people of Coos County. It has been that big, red cherry at the top of the pie that we have all bent over backwards to make sure that this thing happens. Let’s see the details. Let’s see the site plan. Let’s approve it. Let’s move on.”
Finally, the board agreed to consider the entire plan. Acceptance of the site plan as complete is only the first step.
A public hearing would follow and then the board’s consideration of the plan itself.
All that could take several more months, board chair Scarinza said.
But Dixville Capital spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said the group still hopes things will move along quickly enough for work to begin before the end of the year.
Tranchemontagne also said Dixville Capital understands that some planning board members “had concerns about how to move forward and how much detail is required for certain elements of the project.” But, he said, at “the end of the meeting we were all on the same page.”
There are about a half dozen items missing, the most important being the filing of the alteration of terrain permit with the state and providing the design of a “skiback” bridge that would allow skiers to leave the slopes and get back to the hotel and condominiums.
The board set its next meeting for late in August, but the ski expansion won’t be on the agenda unless Dixville Capital says it has all the required information, Scarinza said.
The effort to revive the resort has already missed several self-imposed deadlines and doesn’t yet have all the needed financing.
But state officials and many North Country residents are enthusiastic about the project, seeing it as providing a once-in-a-lifetime economic boost to a region that has yet to recover after its paper mills closed.