|By Kevin Miller, Bangor Daily News,
MaineMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 29, 2007 - The owner of Big Squaw Mountain Resort has revived and expanded plans to turn the underutilized ski slope outside Greenville into a four-season facility that could help draw crowds to the Moosehead Lake region.
Resort owner Jim Confalone has told staff with the Land Use Regulation Commission that his short-term expansion plans include construction of about 200 condominiums at the resort, upgrades to the existing hotel and base lodge and improvements to the lift that carries skiers to the upper mountain.
Confalone's long-term plans for the resort are even more ambitious.
In a letter to LURC, a consultant said Confalone would like to build a "world-class" 18-hole golf course, two new hotels and conference centers, single-family homes and even a train station near the resort.
Confalone is requesting a pre-application meeting with LURC staff to discuss his short-term and long-term plans for the resort that he has owned since the mid-1990s.
"In the coming months, Mr Confalone will work with teams of professionals to collect data on existing conditions, prepare the application for the first phase of development and develop a comprehensive long-range plan," wrote Tom Farmer, an associate with the landscaping and architectural planning firm Terrence J. DeWan and Associates of Yarmouth.
"We are confident that the eventual plan will be a sound and environmentally sensitive approach for future growth at Big Squaw Mountain Resort."
Located on Route 15 a few miles west of downtown Greenville, the resort on what is now called Big Moose Mountain has long been regarded as key to helping turn the Moosehead Lake region into a year-round tourist hot spot. The resort currently offers 33 miles of ski trails, many offering panoramic views of Moosehead and the surrounding mountains.
Confalone owns more than 6,500 acres on Big Moose Mountain and along the nearby shores of Moosehead Lake. Currently, 925 acres surrounding the resort are zoned for general development.
But the ski slopes have been open intermittently in recent years and sometimes not at all. This past winter the lower slopes were open on weekends and school holidays but were run largely by volunteers. Slopes on the upper portion of the mountain have been closed because of problems with the lift.
The lack of business, combined with earlier expansion plans that never came to fruition, has created tension between Confalone, local officials and Greenville-area business leaders. For example, Piscataquis County commissioners on Tuesday discussed discontinuing winter maintenance of the access road to Big Squaw Mountain because of uncertainty over the resort.
John Simko, Greenville's town manager, said Confalone's plan, if completed, would be a "tremendous benefit" to the region.
"It's something that we have all hoped for and wanted in that location for decades," Simko said.
While pleased to hear about the new expansion plans, Simko said he and others remain skeptical that the resort will be redeveloped because of past experiences.
"We've all believed in the potential [of the site], but unfortunately we are a bit jaded here because we have suffered literally decades of not seeing that promise fulfilled ... both through Confalone and previous owners," Simko said.
In an interview, Confalone said a variety of complicated factors forced him to delay his earlier expansion plans. After several years of work, Confalone was able to purchase the surrounding 5,200 acres needed to build the hotels and residential subdivisions that will support a 4-season facility.
Of course, Confalone's plan isn't the only resort development proposed for Big Moose Mountain.
Plum Creek Timber Co. has proposed building an 800-accommodation resort not far from Confalone's property. LURC will consider those resort plans this fall as part of its review of Plum Creek's larger Moosehead Lake development plan.
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