A proposal to revive a defunct ski resort near Moosehead Lake has won conditional approval of a key state permit.
In this file photo from February 2019, young skiers hit the slopes on a beautiful day at Big Moose Mountain in Big Moose Township. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

BANGOR, Maine — The state approved a development permit for a proposed $126.3 million redevelopment project at a partially defunct ski resort in Piscataquis County on Wednesday.

Maine Land Use Planning Commission staff recommended that the development permit, focused on the project’s first phase, be approved during a meeting in Bangor. Commissioners unanimously voted in favor, and one commissioner was absent.

The proposed year-round ski resort in Big Moose Township has been a long time coming, and the commissioners’ decision marks a pivotal moment. Approval of the permit could start a process that reshapes the Moosehead Lake region and the future of those who live there. But developer Perry Williams of Big Lake Development LLC is still required to meet a detailed list of conditions that stand between him and getting the project underway.

The conditions include starting construction in the next two years and completing it within five and providing an agreement with the Moosehead Sanitary District for wastewater disposal, among others.

Williams applied for a permit in March 2021 and has extended a purchase and sale agreement with property owner James Confalone of Florida a number of times.

“Staff recommends, if carried out with the conditions in the decision document, the proposal and activities will meet criteria for approval,” said Debra Kaczowski, the commission’s permitting and compliance regional supervisor.

The ski resort would include a detachable chairlift to the top of the mountain, base lodge that could function as a conference center, 63-room hotel, taphouse and restaurant, a zip-line tour ride and more, Williams said during a June public hearing in Greenville.

Williams also proposes infrastructure improvements, including electric utility lines, replacement snowmaking lines, installation of a mid-mountain pump station, vehicle access and parking, potable water system and sanitary district sewer lines, according to the commission’s memorandum.

The developer requested in December 2021 to amend the proposal to exclude an outdoor center.

For the project to move forward, the commission is requiring Williams to provide a final cost estimate, commitment letter from Barclays and other documents necessary to show adequate financing. He also must submit a signed copy of a Maine Department of Transportation traffic movement permit for the project and obtain a letter from C.A. Dean Medical Services before construction can start, among other conditions.

Some of the conditions relate to environmental aspects of the project. For example, Williams must conduct follow-up verification of wetland boundaries, complete a vernal pool study during breeding season and perform a wetland delineation around the zipline upper terminal.

Williams’ application provided a cost estimate for the redevelopment — $126.3 million — which was updated in March 2022 from $113.5 million. That includes erosion control, stormwater treatment structures, utility installation in addition to site work, and construction of buildings, roads and parking lots.

An additional $3 million is needed to upgrade existing pump stations to handle anticipated wastewater from the project, according to the Moosehead Sanitary District.

Vice Chair Commissioner Betsy Fitzergerald of Washington County questioned whether staff members felt comfortable and confident about monitoring progress on a project this large.

The project site is close enough to the planning commission’s Greeville office that someone could easily travel there, Kaczowski said. Engineers for stormwater construction will also need to be on site and could let staff know about issues, she said.

Erosion control, construction components and more depend on proper financing, which Commissioner Leo Trudel of Aroostook County said concerned him. It’s good that Barclays, the Finance Authority of Maine and a Big Moose Resort Tax Increment Financing District are involved, but the commission will be the last to see repercussions if the developer and others involved with the project do not meet obligations, he said.

“The last thing you want — and we’ve seen it throughout the state of Maine — is large projects start, they get halfway through, they’re not well planned and they go bankrupt,” he said.

All of the required financial documents must be submitted before construction can begin, and staff will keep track of finances, Kaczowski said. 

Stacie Beyer, the commission’s acting executive director, said her understanding is that for the funding package to work, all of the bonds need to be sold so that money is available up front before construction begins. 

Commissioner Bill Gilmore, who represents Franklin County, recognized that the project has been a long and tedious process for the commission’s staff, who put together a 67-page document evaluating the application.

“I know there were concerns on both sides as to liability of something of this magnitude,” he said. “I think with all the conditions that you put in place, this should be allowed with the confidence that everything that needs to be done can be done.”