CAMDEN, Maine — The town and an excavation company are being fined more than $50,000 by the state Department of Environmental Protection for destroying a section of forest and failing to prevent erosion that polluted nearby bodies of water as part of a multi-million dollar upgrade at the town-owned ski area that began in 2014.
According to consent agreements obtained from DEP, the town is being fined $44,400 for violations that stem from the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Redevelopment Project, and the Jefferson-based BCD Excavation and Forestry, which the town contracted for the project, is being fined $7,500.
The town was slated to meet with DEP officials Monday, interim Town Manager Roberta Smith said Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled because of the blizzard and has not yet been rescheduled.
The hope, Smith said, is that the town can reach an agreement with the DEP to complete some sort of wetland mitigation or erosion control restoration project in lieu of paying a fine to the state.
The town has been expecting to be assessed a fine by DEP since it received an initial notice of violation from the department in September 2014, Select Board Chairman John French, Jr. said last week.
The fine is the latest bout of negative publicity in a string of incidents in the last two months, starting with former Town Manager Patricia Finnigan’s resignation last month, followed a week later by the resignation of Landon Fake, the town’s parks and recreation director and general manager of the Snow Bowl.
Both departures resulted from a misunderstanding between both officials and two local businesses — Cold Toes Tacos and Sidecountry Sports — which had been operating at the Snow Bowl, per Finnigan’s and Fake’s approval. Both businesses were told to vacate the mountain in mid January after the town attorney determined that both businesses had not been properly permitted by the town. Both were granted re-entry only after being vetted by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Select Board.
The redevelopment project that led to the DEP violations is also being audited, per unanimous request in early January by the Select Board.
The results of the audit were supposed to be completed by Wednesday, Feb. 15, Beth Ward, interim general manager of the Snow Bowl said that morning. It’s taking longer than expected, however, and results aren’t expected until early March.
The Snow Bowl itself and its events have nonetheless continued to be a robust attraction. While the turnout of teams to the 27th U.S. National Toboggan Championships last weekend wasn’t record breaking (the competition can accommodate 425 teams) there were still 357 two-, three- and four-person teams participating, for a total of more than 1,100 individual competitors, according to Ward.
One of those participants was Loretta Hooper, of Warren, who competed with a four-person team of coworkers from Just Friends Hair Design in Rockland. They placed second for their Mardis Gras costumes in the competition’s costume contest.
Hooper has competed for the last five years. She said she’s aware of the behind-the-scenes tumult, but it doesn’t have a bearing on her desire to visit the mountain.
“I don’t think too many people around here care about it,” she said. “Everybody just goes because it’s fun to do in the wintertime. Nobody thinks about the controversy.”
Ward agreed, and said most people aren’t privy to what’s happening. If anyone is paying attention to the controversy it’s the season pass holders, who are among the mountain’s “biggest supporters” in terms of revenue, she said.
Last year’s winter season, which she said was the “worst I’d seen” in her 12 years working at the mountain due to lack of snow, yielded just 22,000 visits. The 2015 season brought 28,000 visits, and the year before had 30,000 visits.
But Ward expects this season to “definitely” bring more visits than last year. It seems like the mountain is on track to have a “break-even season,” she said.
When asked whether she felt the Snow Bowl had been mismanaged, Ward said, “from my perspective, no.”
The deliberate clearing at the Snow Bowl began in the spring of 2014 in the Ragged Mountain ski area, as part of a $6.5 million project that would bring new trails, a ski lift, an expanded stretch of land for beginners to ski and clearing of land to make way for a new two-story lodge. About 15 total acres of space were cleared for the project.
A few months later in June, BCD Excavation and Forestry, the logging company contracted by the town, caused a mudslide that emptied into Hosmer Pond. DEP officials met with town staff, and it was discovered that the company had cleared more than the allowed acreage of trees, as well as failed to take erosion precautions, which led to the mudslide.
Select Board Chairman French said last week that, in hindsight, the town should have at least hired a “clerk of the works” to oversee the project. “For whatever reason, (the town), myself included, didn’t think it was necessary. It got away from us,” he said.
French would not comment because of ongoing “personnel issues” when asked whether he thought the Snow Bowl was mismanaged, why he thought all of these issues were converging at the same time, or how quickly the town was working to find a full-time general manager.
DEP had approved excavation of about 7,000 square feet of “wet meadow and forested wetlands,” and in the notice of violation, the department detailed how BCD had violated DEP standards in several ways, including by disturbing surrounding soils by skidding “trees down several pre-existing ski trails (and) severely disturbing soils without the use of erosion and sedimentation controls.”
The total area of violations exceeded an acre, the DEP cited.
In Nov. 2014 voters elected to borrow $2 million to match the $4.5 million that had been raised privately to fund the snow mountain upgrade. But in October of that year, money spent to that point on the project had exceeded that amount by about $500,000, which led to questions of how the money was being spent.
The town approved the decision to spend $12,000 to audit the redevelopment project’s funds. Last week in a press release, the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation agreed with the decision to audit and said it will allow the town “to better understand project expenses, possible cost overruns and requisitioning of funding from the Foundation for budgeted expenses.”