Deficits, debts, overruns, and resignations have emerged from the ski area's expansion project.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017, NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com
Though ski season ended a month ago, the coastal town of Camden, Maine is swirling in controversy following financial and environmental scandals involving Camden Snow Bowl.
Camden's town manager and the Snow Bowl's general manager both resigned this winter due to issues involving the ski area. As a result of the Snow Bowl's financial problems, the town was forced to borrow $2.5 million to cover its cash fund shortfall.
The $6.5 million Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Project was kicked off in November of 2013, when town voters approved a $2 million bond to be matched with $4.5 million in private contributions from the Ragged Mountain Foundation. The project was to include new trails, the installation of two used chairlifts, expanded snowmaking, expanded night skiing, and a new base lodge. Construction at the town owned and operated ski area commenced in March of 2014 under the watch of new General Manager Landon Fake.
The aggressive first phase of the project, which involved removing the area's entire lift network and installing two chairlifts, quickly fell behind schedule. The area was able to only able to complete one chairlift that winter, as its new summit triple opened on January 29. The postponed start of the season resulted in the refunding of 145 season passes.
The incomplete novice chairlift in March 2015
While the $2.6 million lodge project was scheduled for the 2015 off season, the only major project undertaken was to complete the partially installed novice chairlift.
No significant work was completed during the 2016 off season. As of December 16, town manager Patricia Finnigan reported that $6,811,363 had been spent on the project and that the latest lodge construction estimate was an additional $2.7 million. Finnigan resigned the following month. One week later, Fake resigned.
In February, the Department of Environmental Protection fined the town of Camden $44,400 for forest destruction and erosion issues tied to the ski area expansion.
According to an audit conducted by RHR Smith & Company, the Town of Camden "paid approximately $750,000 in project expenses beyond the amount approved by the voters," not including the $2.6 million budgeted lodge project. The audit also uncovered questionable accounting practices.
The recent Camden Snow Bowl issues have a stark similarity to those at other government operated ski areas.
State of New Hampshire owned and operated Cannon Mountain's Mittersill expansion project resulted in the clearing of Federally preserved forest and erosion caused by heavy equipment. In addition, an audit released just over a year ago disclosed missing funds and accounting issues. Both Camden and Cannon have also consumed public general funds for capital projects and operating deficits in recent years.
Meanwhile, Belknap County owned and operated Gunstock Mountain is facing scrutiny from the county delegation over its debts and deficits. One current proposal is a half decade moratorium on expansion debt for the ski area, as well as the development of an operating cash reserve fund to curb annual requests for off season operating cash. Gunstock needed a $950,000 bridge loan in 2016 after posting a $954,145 loss on operations.
While Camden Snow Bowl's proposed $874,000 operating budget was recently recommended by the Camden Budget Committee, town Select Board is facing mounting criticism for its lack of oversight.
One Budget Committee member told the Select Board, "One consideration ought to be that none of you run again for this office."
In response, two members of the four person Select Board said they will not seek re-election.