Piscataquis County sees the revival of the Big Squaw Mountain ski area as a part of the Moosehead Lake region’s economic revitalization. So the county’s commissioners have joined the state in a lawsuit against the partially defunct ski area’s owner that seeks millions of dollars to restore the ski mountain.
Justice William Stokes granted the county’s motion to join the lawsuit on Dec. 4 after a hearing at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, according to Joseph Donahue, one of the county’s Portland attorneys.
The Maine attorney general’s office in September 2016 sued owner James Confalone of Florida in Kennebec County Superior Court claiming that he used the property to secure more than $4 million in loans but failed to use that money to reopen the ski lift, trails and lodge.
Stokes allowed Piscataquis County to join the lawsuit in support of the state’s claims after its attorneys argued that commissioners seek to “return the resort to a once-again economic force for the region.”
Neither the state nor Confalone objected to Piscataquis County’s motion to intervene.
The Big Squaw Mountain resort opened in 1963 and, as it grew, became a major tourist draw to the Moosehead Lake Region.
The state owned the resort from 1974 to 1986 after Scott Paper Company gave up ownership. It passed through several owners before the 1,216-acre ski area was sold in 1995 to Confalone for $550,000 “with the explicit understanding that the purchaser would invest in and improve the ski area and resort, and maintain and operate it as an attractive and safe resort for the benefit of the people of Maine and the Greenville community,” the lawsuit states.
The state’s complaint claims that the company’s “failure to invest, maintain, expand and operate the entire ski area and resort has had a devastating impact on the economy of Greenville and surrounding communities.”
The state wants Confalone’s firm, Moosehead Mountain Resort Inc., to pay damages into an escrow account to be overseen by the state to repair and restore the ski mountain, ski lifts and other resort property to the condition they were in before Confalone purchased the ski area.
The complaint did not include a cost estimate for those repairs but asked that the firm be ordered to post a performance bond of at least $1 million and that the $4.2 million the firm allegedly obtained using the property as collateral be used for repairs and maintenance at the resort.
Moosehead Mountain Resort failed to perform basic maintenance and repairs at the resort’s hotel and base lodge, which led to their deterioration and closure in 2001, the lawsuit alleged. In 2004, the ski lift serving the 12 upper trails failed, injuring four people. It has not been repaired nor operated since then. Confalone closed the ski area in 2010, according to the complaint.
Since the winter of 2013, the not-for-profit Friends of Squaw Mountain, which is not a party to the lawsuit, has leased the lower ski lift, trails and lodge from Confalone for $1 a year. The organization has cleared and groomed 15 trials, refurbished the lodge facility, repaired the lower lift so that it has passed inspection, and offered skiing and snowboarding lessons, according to information on its website. In 2017, the group expanded the lodge to include a ticket office and ski shop.
The judge last month also allowed Confalone’s attorney, Charles Cox of Newport, to withdraw and gave the Florida man 40 days to hire a new lawyer. As of Friday, an attorney had not yet entered an appearance on Confalone’s behalf, the court clerk’s office said.
A trial date has not been set.