Talks continue for The Balsams redevelopment
DIXVILLE — Information about the redevelopment of The Balsams is still in short supply, but spokesmen for both Les Otten and Brookfield Power confirmed that they are talking about reducing setbacks from wind turbines that Otten says he needs to eventually quadruple the size of the Wilderness ski area.
That said, however, it’s been more than a month since the May 22 annual meeting of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in West Stewartstown where Otten announced the “spectacular rebirth” of The Balsams, which boasts a famous hotel, as well as the ski area and a world-class golf course, and said he was having a conversation with Brookfield Power about its wind turbines in the Granite Reliable Wind Farm.
At the time, Otten, who grew Maine’s Sunday River ski resort into the successful operation and was also the founder of the American Skiing Co., said there were five “hurdles” for the revamped Balsams to become a reality, one of them being the proximity of the wind turbine setbacks to the ski area.
Previously, Coos County Commissioner Paul Grenier said that in a conversation with him, Otten indicated that he could “live” with a 500-foot setback but not the 1,350-foot setback that had been imposed by the county’s planning board. The setbacks are intended to prevent harm to anyone near the turbines from accumulated ice being flung off their blades.
The three-member commission later sent a letter to Brookfield Power and to Balsams View LLC in support of the setback reduction, which would have to be considered by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.
Balsams View LLC, led by Colebrook businessmen Dan Dagesse and Dan Hebert, bought The Balsams in December 2011 and in February 2014 brought in Otten to lead the redevelopment effort.
In a June 26 e-mail response to an inquiry by the Union Leader, Vanessa Pilotte, who is director of communications for Brookfield Renewable Energy Group, which is located in Gatineau, Quebec, said the company has been in contact with Otten.“The safety of the public remains our first priority and, at this time, there are a few items that need to be clarified before we get comfortable with the reduction of the setbacks,” Pilotte added.
Scott Tranchemontagne, who is Otten’s spokesman, said on June 27 the talks between the parties were taking place, but he did not know their content. Last week, Coos County Administrator Jennifer Fish said that her office had not received any amended or new site plans for the Balsams.
In sharing his vision for the Balsams with North Country Chamber of Commerce members last month, Otten said he hoped the project would have $100 million worth of investment by 2016 and continue to grow in phases, the first of which would entail renovation of the existing Donald Ross golf course; adding five new lifts at the ski area; building a 400-room hotel; and renovations to the Dix and Hampton houses.
Otten’s “rebirth” for the Balsams is premised upon its broad-based appeal to “Gen Xers” — whom he called the economic drivers at resorts for the next 25 years — as well as to guests who want a traditional grand hotel experience and skiers who demand world-class snow and conditions.
To make the latter happen, Otten has proposed building a pipeline that would carry water 12 miles from the Androscoggin River in Errol to the ski area to feed its snow-making equipment.
At one time the largest employer in the North Country, The Balsams, which has been shuttered for three years, is viewed by local and state officials as a vital part of the region’s economic recovery.
Among those who have publicly stated their support for what Otten is doing are Gov. Maggie Hassan and Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte. Jeffrey Rose, the commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, at the June 13 ribbon-cutting for the Mount Washington Observatory’s new museum, said his agency continues to work closely with Otten.