The owner of a ski resort overlooking Moosehead Lake in Piscataquis County will have to pay more than $4.5 million in damages after a Kennebec County Superior Court justice ruled in favor of the state.
The decision came following a damages hearing held Dec. 14 and 15, 2021, where the state and James Confalone of Florida, the defendant and owner of the property, along with others, testified in court about timber harvesting and the ski resort’s deteriorating conditions.
The parties had a chance to submit written briefings in late December.
Confalone was ordered in November 2020 to repair and restore the ski mountain, ski lifts and other resort property to the condition they were in before he purchased it from the state in 1995. A damages hearing was necessary for the court to determine how much Confalone owes the state in fines for the illegal timber harvest, and how much would be placed into an escrow account to renovate the ski resort. A Knox County developer, Perry Williams of Big Lake Development LLC, has been trying to purchase the property in Big Moose Township to turn it into a $113.5 million four-season resort that could boost the local economy.
The Maine Land Use Planning Commision has not decided on the application for the proposed ski resort redevelopment. Commissioners voted in February to hold a public hearing, which has not been scheduled.
Justice William Stokes ruled in favor of the state on three counts. In the first count, the state sought a civil penalty of $148,000 against Confalone and his company, Moosehead Mountain Resort Inc., for 16 days of timber harvesting violations. It also requested a civil penalty of $2,700 against OFLC Inc. for two days of violations.
“The state places MMR’s violations in the major category, primarily because of the amount of timber harvested, the high elevation of the area subjected to harvesting and the potential for damage to the habitat of the area,” the court document said. The state also sought to increase the penalty because of the failure to self-report the violation, prior alleged violations of Land Use Planning Commission rules and the inability to take remedial measures.
Confalone’s company is required to pay a civil penalty worth $56,000, according to the justice’s ruling. OFLC, Inc. was ordered to pay $1,500.
In the second count, the court found that Confalone’s company breached the timber harvesting deed restrictions in 2010-2011. Moosehead Mountain Resort Inc. will have to pay $136,277, with pre-judgment interest at a rate of 3.65 percent and post-judgment interest at a rate of 6.29 percent.
Stokes also took the state’s side in the third count, ruling that Moosehead Mountain Resort Inc. will have to deposit $3,831,000 into an escrow account because Confalone failed to maintain the ski area. He and his company will also have to post a $500,000 performance bond.
The state had asked the court to order Moosehead Mountain Resort Inc. to pay more than $10.8 million.
The court ruled that Confalone failed to provide continued public access to the trails and lift lines, according to the court ruling. The lift operating the upper mountain has not run since 2004, when it broke and injured four people.
“We are pleased with the Superior Court’s decision, which we believe fairly and reasonably addresses the state’s claims regarding this treasured resource and will further the public’s use of the ski area,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said Tuesday morning.
The legal battle began in 2016 when the state filed a lawsuit alleging that the failure of Confalone and his company “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 also alleged that Confalone harvested timber on 169 acres between 2010 and 2012.
Piscataquis County Commissioners intervened in the case in early 2019 in hopes of reviving the ski resort so it could serve as an economic booster for the state’s poorest county.
The mountain — now Big Moose Mountain — opened in December 1963 for skiing, but closed in 2010 after the ski resort fell into disrepair. Friends of the Mountain, a nonprofit that has leased the chairlift and lodge since 2013, has groomed the trails, refurbished the ski lodge and operated the lower mountain in the winter.
Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this story.