GREENVILLE, Maine — Until recent years, there wasn’t an issue with the county plowing the Big Squaw Mountain Access Road because of the economic development benefits the Big Squaw Mountain Resort and Ski Area provided the region.
But those benefits have dwindled, say local officials, because the owner of the snow-dependent resort and ski area has reduced the days of operation, or in the case of this season, did not open the facility at all. That decision prompted Piscataquis County commissioners on Tuesday to revisit the issue of providing winter maintenance.
Commissioner Eric Ward said that even those people who had urged the commissioners at a public hearing in August to continue plowing the road so the local ski team could practice are now asking that the county cease plowing it. At that time, the local high school ski team practiced on the mountain whether the ski area was open or not. This year, the team is training in a Greenville field, he said.
‘’We’ve been pretty consistent here that we will plow that road if it’s operated as a ski area,’’ Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Tuesday. ‘’The problem is the owner keeps on saying one thing will happen and maybe another happens instead, and you never know until you get to that point what’s actually going on.’’
Calls to Jim Confalone, the owner of the resort and ski area, for comment on Tuesday were not returned.
Since the town has a contract with Mike Theriault of Greenville to plow the road, the commissioners said they have two options this year: continue the winter maintenance or stop the plowing as a symbolic gesture with the understanding that Theriault will still be paid approximately $10,000 for the season. Since the road is in the Unorganized Territory, the funds are paid by the UT property taxpayers.
With only a few weeks remaining of winter, the commissioners agreed to continue the plowing but also voted to seek legal advice about their future options.
‘’We only want to keep plowing that road if the ski area is operating because that’s the rationale for us having the road to begin with,’’ Lizotte said. ‘’It’s sad. We’ve been going around the bar on this for five years or so and really what’s aggravating is there’s so much frustration in the Greenville area.’’
Commissioner Fred Trask agreed. ‘’It’s a shame. It’s the best spot we have in the county and we’re not utilizing it,’’ he said.
In Confalone’s defense, Ward said, skiing doesn’t foot the bill for the mountain. However, the construction of condominiums on the 1,000 surrounding acres that Confalone owns would help, he said, adding that there’s little opposition to such a move.