EDITORIAL: Wish Catamount well

PEOPLE SKI ON SAND. Maybe soon they’ll ski on grass. Judging from viral videos on social media, the next big sports phenomenon might be skiing with drones. Maybe some billionaire-in-the-making will discover how drones can allow you to ski and cut the grass at the same time.
Regional ski areas finally have had enough cold weather for serious snowmaking. But like farming and other endeavors that depend on nature, enticing big crowds to the slopes is a risky business, especially in an era when we know the climate is warming. That’s could explain why the rekindled interest in new lodging at the Catamount Ski Slope on Copake’s border with Massachusetts attracted so much interest.

In the last decade a plan emerged for a multi-phase condominium project at Catamount around the base of the slope. That plan eventually stalled. But a couple of years ago a new, more ambitious proposal emerged for an $80-million, year-round resort with 153 time-shares and hotel rooms along with a restaurant, spa and space for retail stores.

The promotional drawings portrayed the main building of this Berkshire Mountain Club in what you might call a neo-Disney style. In the tourism business, that’s a high praise. It won enthusiastic support from county and state officials, which led to financing for the developer. And after a rough start in the town review process, the plan appeared to have obtained most of its permits.

Not everybody is thrilled by the project and a couple who own a restaurant adjacent to Catamount went to court to block it. Two state judges have dismissed their challenges, but the neighbors have persisted and the latest round left the project in limbo. That led the Berkshire Mountain Club developer called it quits. Harry Freeman of Rock Solid Development, LLC said his company was walking away from the plan because the legal challenges had delayed it past the time when his firm could make a return on its investment.

Undeterred, Tom Gilbert, president of Catamount Ski Area, announced last month that his company would pursue final approvals for the project and find a new developer. Is that likely?
If the former developer left only because of bad timing, then others undoubtedly will line up once approvals are in place. And that would be a hopeful sign for the community as well as the ski slope.
But what if the core of the problem facing Catamount residential development is something other than neighbors? What if underlying the delays are factors like scale, market appeal and, yes, climate change.

No one should expect Catamount to suddenly give up its vision of developing into a major destination resort. If it works out, lots of people will benefit. But the ski area has been a good neighbor and steward of the land, a major employer and an economic anchor for so long, it’s hard not to wish they weren’t betting instead on a future that’s more adaptable, innovative and green.

It was that time again

YES. WE DID IT AGAIN. The people who produce The Columbia Paper took the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so there wasn’t an issue published New Year’s Eve. That surprised some of our readers much the way it did when we first adopted this schedule last year.
One man who called this year to inquire about the paper-that-wasn’t sounded relieved when he learned that the interruption in service was deliberate on our part. No mystery to solve here: people needed a week free of deadlines–at least newspaper deadlines. He was very understanding.

And then he said, “I like to look through the newspaper each week to see what’s in it.”

There are all sorts of prestigious newspaper awards that say lofty things about the role of newspapers in society. But the eloquence of his statement puts them all to shame. What better reason for buying a paper than curiosity. It’s humbling to think that here we are facing another week when we’ll try to live up to his expectations. The knowledge that a few thousand other people in Columbia County are also awaiting the return of the paper reminds me why vacations need to end.
So here we go again, and while it’s a little late to say this, all of us at The Columbia Paper wish our readers a safe, happy and peaceful year ahead.

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