LAKE PLACID - Joe Martens says lawmakers should support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to transfer management of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Martens is commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which currently runs the ski hill, located in Highmount in the Catskills. He's also the former chairman of ORDA's Board of Directors.
"It's in the governor's budget, so it's a proposal we're hoping the Legislature will take us up on," said Martens, who was in Lake Placid on Wednesday to present Cuomo's proposed 2012-13 budget.
Joe Martens speaks Wednesday in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
ORDA operates ski centers at Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, and at Gore Mountain, in North Creek. It also runs Olympic venues in and around Lake Placid.
Martens noted that a similar transfer happened in 1984, when ORDA took over Gore from DEC.
"It's relatively straightforward," he said. "It's not unprecedented; we've been through it before. The proposed legislation is almost identical to the bill that had the transfer to Gore back in 1984."
Cuomo proposed the transfer after the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission revealed that Belleayre, under DEC's management, has needed annual cash infusions to keep afloat.
Martens said operating ski centers is more in line with ORDA's core mission than it is with DEC's.
"Based on my experience with ORDA, I can say firsthand that I think they are terrific managers; they're in the business, so to speak," he said. "It's not part of DEC's core mission to operate a ski center: That doesn't mean we've done it badly, but I think being a public authority gives them more options than we do as a state agency."
As an authority, ORDA is able to borrow money and leverage sponsor dollars to improve operations and upgrade facilities.
In January, an Enterprise editorial said ORDA should be put in charge of Belleayre but wondered if, given the potential for an expanded geographic scope, ORDA's name might be changed to something more inclusive, like "Winter Sports Authority."
"We're not sure if this would be a good thing for our part of the state, but it seems possible if you try to think about it from a statewide perspective," the editorial said.
Martens said he hadn't even considered the idea.
"It's a fair point," he said, "but I would still say that the bulk of what ORDA does is related to the Olympic region, and I don't think people in the Catskills would view it as a slight to be included under that umbrella. I guess you can argue that skiing at Belleayre Mountain is part of the Olympic development movement. I think you can make a bunch of arguments to suggest that a change in name wouldn't be necessary."
There has been some pushback against the potential transfer. Roger Wall of the Catskills Heritage Alliance told the Enterprise recently that it's a "stretch" for ORDA to take on Belleayre's management because of cultural differences between the two areas.
North County lawmakers like state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, support the proposal.
If the transfer is approved by the Legislature, it would add a 10th member to ORDA's board, from either Ulster or Delaware County.