Citing widespread violations, judge orders halt to construction at Haystack-Hermitage resort
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | December 21,2012
WILMINGTON — A environmental court judge has issued an emergency order against the new owner of the Haystack Ski Area, ordering construction stop immediately on the new luxury ski resort including a new ski lift, trails, base lodge, summit building and other projects.
According to the eight-page order, dated Wednesday, Bob Ruben, a vice president for Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co., the new owner of Haystack, told state investigators Dec. 12 the resort would not stop working on the various unpermitted projects “unless directed to stop.”
According to the order by Judge Thomas Durkin, state environmental investigators had been trying to get Hermitage Inn officials to stop the unpermitted work and correct severe erosion problems since Oct. 26.
According to the order, workers for Hermitage Inn Real Estate also built an illegal 1¼ mile snowmobile trail through steep terrain that was supposed to be conserved for critical black bear habitat, according to its state land use permit.
The order includes allegations by state environmental staff that construction workers for Hermitage Inn Real Estate had ignored state environmental officials, their concerns and violated conditions of the permits it did have and had undertaken other work knowing they didn’t have the required permits.
According to the order, Hermitage Inn Real Estate kept working for almost two months despite being told to stop.
Both the Hermitage Inn and Haystack are owned by Connecticut millionaire businessman James Barnes, who has plans to link the luxury inn to the ski area, which had been closed for seven years until he bought it a year ago. Barnes’ plans call for a private luxury ski resort, with a limited number of ski lift tickets sold to residents of Wilmington and Dover. Barnes also wants the towns of Wilmington and Dover to loan him money to finance the purchase and improvement of the Mount Snow Airport.
Mary Beth Tryon, a spokeswoman for the company, didn’t return a call for comment on the emergency order.
The Agency of Natural Resources had gone to court against Hermitage Real Estate Holding Co., seeking a halt to construction.
A state investigator, Ryan McCall, with the watershed management division, said he visited Oct. 26 and found construction of a beginner ski slope at Haystack, a summit building at the top of Haystack, a snowmaking line at Haystack and a new ski lift at the Hermitage site. None of that construction had a permit, according to the judge’s order.
At that time, McCall told Hermitage officials to stop work on those projects until permits were in place. McCall repeated the order Nov. 13 after another visit to the site, again Nov. 26, Dec. 10 and Dec. 12.
The judge, in granting the emergency stop, allowed only construction work to control erosion to continue, and gave Hermitage Inn Real Estate three days to stabilize the snowmobile trail, and 10 days to stabilize all other exposed or disturbed areas with either a thick bed of straw mulch, crushed stone or an erosion control blanket.
Hermitage Inn Real Estate is in the process of clearing land for a ski lift and associated ski trails, a summit building, a 10-unit guest building, a single-family home and a drinking water and sewer lines.
According to Durkin’s order, Hermitage cut an unpermitted snowmobile trail through conservation land next to the Green Mountain National Forest, among other problems, and refused to stop working despite repeated concerns raised by Agency of Natural Resources staff, dating back to October.
The order said that while Hermitage Inn Real Estate has a permit for a small amount of earth work, it lacks many permits for the work it had already started. The work was causing constant muddy discharge into state waters, the order stated.
The order leaves little doubt that Hermitage Inn Real Estate is also believed to behind a move by the Green Mountain National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service earlier this week to close a 23-acre section of the forest immediately adjacent to the ski area and also close a five-mile ridgeline trail between Haystack and Mount Snow ski areas. U.S. Forest Service officials said the trail and forest had been damaged by excavation, and in the case of the trail, stretching over several miles.
The order gives the Hermitage Club, as it is now called, several days to install emergency erosion controls. The company has the right to seek a court hearing on the emergency order. The request must be filed within 5 days.
According to Durkin’s order, the Agency of Natural Resources can issue other administrative orders, including penalties, because of the various violations.