CAMDEN — Voting 4 to 1 Tuesday evening, Jan. 6, the Camden Select Board agreed that asking Frank Morong, a longtime community businessman and volunteer, to help the Snow Bowl complete its upgrade and manage project finances is a good idea.
“We're always happy to have support,” said Town Manager Patricia Finnegan, towards the end of a 15 minute discussion about the Snow Bowl project status, its cost overruns, and a pending meeting between the town, redevelopment committee and Ragged Mountain Foundation, tentatively scheduled for Friday, Jan. 9.
Morong has been involved with the Snow Bowl for decades in various capacities. He was on the search committee that eventually recommended hiring current Snow Bowl manager Landon Fake, and prior to that, the 2003 search committee that recommended the town hire former parks and recreation Director Jeff Kuller, who died in 2012. Morong also helped Camden First Aid Association through its difficult last years as a nonprofit.
Morong has also been on the Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Recreation Area Committee, which has included Sam Appleton, Scott Dickerson, Bob Gordon (co-chairman), Snow Bowl Acting General Manager Beth Ward, Robert Levine, Fran Moore, Molly Mulhern, John Scholz and Mort Strom.
He was the 2009 Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce's townsperson of the year. For more than 38 years, he worked in banking, serving the greater Midcoast area with Key Bank and Bangor Savings Bank. He was on the finance committee of Waldo County Healthcare, Toboggan Nationals Committee, Long Range Planning Group and was the vice chairman of the Vesper Hill Foundation.
Morong served as interim director for the Camden Parks and Recreation Department and as interim director at Midcoast Solid Waste Corporation.
Select Board member John French suggested to the board at the regularly scheduled Jan. 6 meeting that they formally ask Morong to help as the Snow Bowl continues its $6.5 million-plus overhaul of the municipally-owned ski area.
Finnegan reported to the Select Board at the meeting that snowmaking at the Snow Bowl got under way Tuesday afternoon.
Board member Leonard Lookner said he dropped by the Snow Bowl that afternoon around 3 p.m. and bumped into his former business partner Sam Appleton, who was also coincidentally there to see how progress was coming along.
“Sam was sitting in his car, and all of a sudden, phwoosh!, the snow guns were on,” said Lookner. “Those things are much improved over the old. I'll have to say, it will give you goosebumps. It wasn't because it was cold.”
“They are impressive looking guns,” said Board Chairman Martin Cates.
What’s changing at the mountain?
Improvements include repurposing the existing double-chair lift, removing both T-bars and installing a used triple-chair lift to the top of the mountain, near the same path of the existing Big-T.
The plan also entails keeping the existing lodge for race training and events, and building a new 8,500-square-foot lodge with seating for 200 and food service.
Snowmaking is to be be expanded from 40 percent to over 80 percent coverage, including the improved novice area and the top of the mountain.
Estimated price tags
1) Purchase of the triple-seat chairlift, reconfiguration of existing lift, removal of T-bars: $1 million.
2) Improving snowmaking and equipment, trailwork, power upgrade and distribution: $2.5 million.
3) New lodge: $2 million.
4) Architecture, design, engineering, consultants: $1 million.
There are 15 guns at the mountain, which are set to run on a 24-hour clock to make the snow, said Finnegan. With the wind expected to pick up later in the day Jan. 7, the guns will be turned off until the weather calms down.
The newer snowmaking machinery is part of the massive upgrade, which has been plagued by mechanical and administrative setbacks, excessively rainy weather, visits by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and fiscal overruns.
Despite high hopes and opening dates that were not met, the necessary snowmaking machinery parts finally arrived and temperatures fell below freezing so that Camden Snow Bowl staff went to work making snow.
Finnigan told the board the mountain would open “this weekend, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for certain activity.”
That activity does not mean the new three-man chairlift will be operating — the Snow Bowl is still waiting for the remainder of the chairs to return from getting galvanized — but it does mean that skiers, if they so choose, can walk up the hill and ski down.
Additionally, she said, staff would be on hand for passholders to get their photos taken and passes secured.
Participants in the race program, the 40 or 50 young skiers, would be at the mountain Saturday, and the public would be welcome to hike or snowshoe around.
“This is new,” she said. “Up until now we have been a construction site. This weekend we encourage people to come out and take advantage of the mountain.”
She said the rental shop will be open, as well as the food concession inside the lodge. Next week, the fourth grade Learn-to-Ski program gets under way, and Thursday, the middle school team will be out there “to do some training, hiking as opposed to skiing,” she said.
“Frankly, it is very exciting,” said Select Board member Don White. “This cold weather. Some of us would reather not be outside. But if your'ere a ski enthuisiast you will like it.”
“Even if you just want to come out for lunch,” said Finnigan.
She said she and Fake will be meeting with Camden Snow Bowl Redevelopment Committee Chairman Rick Knowlton and Ragged Mountain Foundation President Bob Gordon on Friday to discuss the fiscal flow of project funding.
The project is funded courtesy of $2 million of tax dollars, an expenditure approved by Camden citizens last year. The foundation, a nonprofit, has raised $4.5 million in pledges.
The project overruns of approximately $800,000 are due in part to rising costs, as well as $500,000 incurred when logging on the mountain produced erosion, which required emergency repair and remediation.
Whether the $800,000 overrun is more — a rumor that is mumbled under breath by people on the street — will be determined this week, said Finnegan, after the numbers are closely picked over.
Snow Bowl Project
In 2008, Camden voters approved a non-binding measure that positioned support for borrowing up to $2 million for Ragged Mountain Recreation Area improvements, if matched by a minimum of $4.5 million raised via private money.
Following that vote, project proponents commenced soliciting contributions, as well as holding public fundraisers.
The Foundation met the $4.5 million mark, with some cushion.
The matching funds — $2 million of town funds and $4.5 million in donations — are to be expended together, not one before the other, and expenditures are planned to match the cash flow of donations over a two-year period.
The cost of borrowing $2 million to the taxpayers could average $110,000 in annual interest payments for 30 years
The capital improvement project at Ragged Mountain entails making mountainside improvements in 2014 and constructing a new lodge in 2015.
The intent is to “provide the capacity to accommodate up to 600 skiers per day with adequate parking, lodge space, uphill lift capacity, and ski terrain serviced by snowmaking and enhance year-round trail use for hikers and mountain biking,” according to the plan.
The mountain has been supported by the town in varying degrees since the town assumed ownership of its real estate and operations in 1983.
In 1990-91, Camden voters approved funding the Snow Bowl with $149,000 of their tax dollars; in 2009-2010, it was $55,000. In 2012, and following several years of good snowfall, the town contributed zero dollars.
The Redevelopment Committee, a municipally appointed group of citizens, has built a detailed finance and budget analysis of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area through 2016, incorporating the entire mountain upgrade.
Aside from debt obligation, the projected budget includes no town matching funds in 2015 and 2016.
Instead, the budget anticipates additional revenue will derive from the increased numbers of daily and season ski tickets, ski school enrollment and new lodge rentals.
– Lynda Clancy
The town is currently spending money to pay for the project from its reserves, and intends to recoup that via a $2 million municipal bond that is to be issued soon, within a month, said Finnegan.
The Foundation has said it will cover cost overruns.
The Foundation is writing checks to the town on a quarterly basis to cover costs, and the nonprofit is now working on securing checks for the pledges made.
The Friday meeting will serve to iron out costs and determine the cash flow, “so people know where the money went,” said Finnigan.
“We need to issue the bond,” said French. “We need to get that cash back.”
He asked Finnegan for a project punchlist, “what's left to do, and the best guess estimate of what we are looking at for additional funds.”
He suggested getting a citizen involved at meetings, and then named Morong.
“He knows the facility,” said French. “We need to get more involved.”
French said the town needed the money to pay the bills, but indicated it was time to collect on donations.
“Promises are good and we are thankful for all willing to donate to snow bowl,” he said. “But some are two- to three-year outstanding pledges.”
Finnegan said the Foundation was working on getting their pledges.
Looming on the project’s horizon is construction of the new lodge, plans for which arrived Dec. 31 at the Camden planning office.
French said he believed that Morong would help guide the project forward on a more even keel.
“Excellent idea, John,” said board member Don White.
“What would be the purpose?” asked Lookner.
“I think he would be helpful,” said French. “He would be involved and make sure finances are doing what they should. I’m not saying they are doing anything wrong. He would help with the numbers.”
“Would he report to the select board?” asked Lookner.
“He would report to Pat and Carol Sue [Carol Sue Greenleaf, town finance director],” said French. “He was a manager at the Snow Bowl and understands how it operates.”
“He could help support Pat with her work,” said Lookner.
“Do they need another resource?” asked Cates.
“We're always happy to have support,” said Finnegan.
“If you think you could make use of an extra layer,” said Cates.
“I don’t see it as a layer, but as a partner,” said Finnigan.
“I could go either way,” said board member Jim Heard.
“Will he accept?” asked Lookner.
“Yes, he will,” said French.
The board then took its vote, 4 to 1, to requisition Morong, with Cates opposing.
“I don't see the rationale,” he said.
The time and place of the Friday meeting has yet to be determined, but the board hopes that Morong will be attending it.
• Homage to Camden’s Big T (March 15, 2014)
• By wide margin, Camden voters approve Snow Bowl improvement bond (Nov. 5, 2013)
• Camden committee selects new parks and recreation director (Sept. 6, 2013)
• Camden considers $2 million Snow Bowl bond, ordinance amendments Nov. 5 (Sept. 4, 2014)
• Camden ready to put $2 million bond before voters (Aug. 21, 2013)
• Camden pursues federal money to help with Snow Bowl upgrade (July 10, 2013)
• Camden learns about refurbished chairlifts, woven grips and haul ropes (April 10, 2013)
• Last run for Jeff (Jan. 21, 2013)
• Stellar start to season at Camden Snow Bowl (Jan. 9, 2013)
• Camden’s Ragged Mountain loses a good friend (Nov. 7, 2012)
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at email@example.com; 207-706-6657