|By Alan Wechsler, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 2, 2005 -ALBANY -- Nearly a year after the end of a hearing on the impact of the proposed Belleayre Resort in the Catskills, there still is no word on whether a state administrative law judge thinks the project is good to go.
Last August, an 18-day issues conference was held on the two-hotel, two-golf-course project, which would be built mostly on undeveloped forest land in the towns of Middletown and Shandaken in Delaware and Ulster counties and surround the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center.
A decision from the state Department of Environmental Conservation judge was expected five months ago -- not a final decision, but one in the needed chain.
"Plodding , that's the word," said Dean Gitter, a Catskill businessman whose Crossroads Ventures LLC would build the project.
Gitter introduced Belleayre Resort in 1999. The $240 million project calls for the construction of two hilltop hotels, each with a world-class golf course. Private homes and town houses also are envisioned.
Developers already have sunk about $10 million into purchasing the property.
Critics say the complex would devastate the area, bringing traffic, pollution from runoff, damage to the view shed and a loss of the rural character of nearby communities.
After a series of public meetings, the issues conference was held last summer in Margaretville, Delaware County, where DEC Administrative Law Judge Richard Wissler listened to testimony from all parties involved. The judge's decision would determine if he had enough information to make a determination on the project's merits, or if he had to hold future hearings. It's that decision everyone is waiting for now.
Wissler would make a recommendation to Acting DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan, who has the final say on whether the project will receive a state permit, necessary because it's located inside the Catskill Park.
Originally, Wissler was expected to decide by the end of February. That date was changed to April, then July. Now, the state says a decision could come as soon as late this month, although others aren't expecting anything until September.
DEC officials were quick to point out the judge had to wade through 700 written comments from the public, plus the text from five public hearings, transcripts from the permit hearing, and the 7,000-plus pages of the application itself.
Marc Gerstman, a lawyer for the Catskill Preservation Coalition, which opposes the project, said he understood why it would be taking so long. "It's a complex and difficult record to get through," he said.
But if environmentalists are hoping the delay will cause Gitter to back off, they shouldn't hold their breath.
"Of course it's still viable," Gitter said last week. "Nothing's changed. Except year after year, interest rates go up."
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