Meeting tonight: 6:30 p.m.

Camden Select Board to discuss Snow Bowl chairlift replacement

Go with used one purchased in 2010 or start all over and buy new?
Mon, 04/08/2013 - 8:15am

Story Location:
20 Barnestown Road
Camden  Maine  04843
United States

    CAMDEN — A special meeting of the Camden Select Board will be held tonight, April 8, to discuss questions raised last week in a letter from resident Stephen Smith regarding the triple ski chairlift equipment that is planned to be installed at the Camden Snow Bowl.

    Smith said based on research he has done, including contacting a chairlift manufacturer that was originally contacted by the committee when it was researching whether to buy a new or used replacement chairlift, it makes more sense for the town to install equipment by a company still in business, among other things.

    "Many of the proposed budget items to be implemented at the Snow Bowl should be reviewed again by the Select Board, since it has been over five years since the town was presented the original proposal," wrote Smith. "If a new lift is installed, the town will have the necessary long term warranties in place and can be assured of safe operation of the area for many years to come."

    The ski lift equipment is part of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Redevelopment project and it was purchased by the Ragged Mountain Area Foundation in 2010. The purchase of the 1984 Riblet Triple Chairlift from Shawnee Peak in Bridgton was outlined to the Foundation's board of directors in an April 9, 2010, memo from then-Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Kuller.

    To assist in ascertaining the chairlift's value and fit at the Snow Bowl, Kuller said that the town contacted an independent ski lift installer, George Kruger, who gave the town an estimate on doing all its lift work for the redevelopment project, and a lift engineer who has done work for the town in the past, Ross Stevens.

    The chairlift was being offered for sale by Shawnee's owner, Chet Homer, for $110,000-$120,000, depending on payment schedules. Either way, delivery of the chairlift needed to be made that spring.

    As for the value of the 1984 chairlift, Kuller wrote that Kruger and Stevens felt it was worth $75,000 and $100,000, respectively.

    Stevens also outlined reasons why he thought the lift would be a good fit for the following reasons:

    -- "The motor is actually somewhat larger than we need. It could be replaced for some energy savings;

    -- "The existing drive is in good condition but could be upgraded with some newer technology;

    -- "The lift has been well maintained;

    -- "The lift has a design speed of 450-feet/minute with 179 chairs spaced 49.1-feet, resulting in an uphill capacity of 1,650 people/hour. Shawnee runs it at 425-feet/minute to accommodate many intermediate level skiers, giving a capacity of 1,518 people/hour. The current uphill capacity of both our chairlift and Big T-bar combine is 1,480 people/hour, so even at the slower speed the new lift would meet our needs. If we install a lift with higher capacity it would put our lift capacity out of sync with our trail capacity, resulting in overcrowding on our trails."

    In the fall of 2006, Horizons Engineering and the Glen Group released the results of its Long Range Plan and Feasibility Study. In short, the study determined that improvements and updates to the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area could stabilize the "somewhat volatile financial history of the existing operation." Kuller and Parks and Recreation Committee Chairperson Molly Mulhearn began meeting with a group of citizens to discuss the study.

    As a result, the group set about to address four tasks, including developing a plan to update/replace the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area's buildings, equipment and property; coordinate the plan with the various stakeholders, including current and potential users of the property; complete the property improvements identified in the study/plan and accomplish the aforementioned tasks with minimal impact on taxpayers.

    The group approached the town in October 2007 seeking formal creation of the group as a Parks and Recreation subcommittee. The group also sought Parks and Recreation Committee and Select Board endorsement of the group's proposed approach to complete the tasks.

    On Oct. 10, 2007, the Parks and Recreation Committee approved both the proposed makeup of the subcommittee and the proposed timeline. The original subcommittee included co-chairman Rick Knowlton and Bob Gordon, Sam Appleton, Scott Dickerson, Don Gross, Frank Morong, Fran Moore, Molly Mulhern, John Scholz and Mort Strom. Kuller and Beth Ward, both town employees, would also serve as non-voting members of the subcommittee, with Mulhern acting as liaison between the two committees.

    The Select Board sanctioned the subcommittee, its makeup and timeline Oct. 23, 2007.

    According to Select Board minutes, the primary components of the redevelopment project include a new base lodge, designed to function both as the base lodge for winter programs and a lodge community center, recreation center for the rest of the year. The committee had decided to pursue building a new lodge, rather than trying to remodel the existing one, and site the new lodge closer to Hosmer Pond.

    Oct. 10, 2008, Camden Parks and Recreation and the Snow Bowl issued a joint press release ahead of the upcoming advisory vote Nov. 4, asking citizens to approve the redevelopment plan, which included potentially seeking a bond of up to $2 million, though voters were not approving spending at that time.

    Questions answered in the release included details on what voters were being asked to approve, why Ragged Mountain Recreation Area needed to redeveloped, why it needed to be done "now," and what the cost would be if the town does nothing.

    The informational release also outlined what the redevelopment plan includes, to wit, a new twice-as-big lodge, a new beginner area, relocated and redesigned tubing hill with a lift, a "new-to-the-area used, higher capacity chairlift" to replace the big T-bar, expanded snowmaking system, and reconfigured entrance road and parking areas. The plan also calls for further development of the woods trail system, increasing connections to the surrounding trails on properties conserved by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, improving access to more than 1,000 acres for mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

    The concept plan identified $6.5 million in facility improvements, including $3 million for the new lodge, $2.39 million for winter operations improvements (lifts, snowmaking, trails, tubing), $.54 million for site improvements (summer trials, parking, utilities, landscaping, lighting) and $.57 for professional services (engineering, architecture, fundraising, legal).

    The Nov. 4, 2008 town referendum vote on the question, which did not authorize funding, passed, with 2,037 voting for and 1,273 voting against.

    In April 2009, Stephen Blatt Architects was awarded the project to design the new lodge. The final contract was approved in June 2009 and paid for by the Ragged Mountain Area Foundation.

    On Sept. 7, 2010, Bob Gordon, president of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation, told the Select Board that the foundation was pursuing purchasing a triple chairlift from Shawnee Peak in Bridgton. The used lift has been stored by the town since its purchase, according to meeting minutes.

    Co-chairman Knowlton updated the Select Board on the project's progress at a meeting Jan. 13, 2012. Knowlton said that the group's current efforts at that time were focused on fundraising, and that further design work was in a holding pattern awaiting full funding. At that point, Knowlton reported the campaign was at the half-way point, having raised $2.25 million.

    "He added that the new chairlift is on site ready for installation and that proposals for improvements remain the same as previously presented to the Board," according to the minutes.

    Eight months later, in September 2012, co-chairman Gordon updated the Select Board and said that $2.7 million of the campaign's $4.5 million goal had been raised, and that fundraising was continuing in earnest.

    Last week, on March 29, Smith wrote a letter to the Select Board, saying that "There are a number of community members and avid skiers" who were skeptical when the committee purchased the used chairlift back in 2010.

    "Usually in ski area development, the first priority is to upgrade the lifts and the snowmaking on the mountain. With a redevelopment budget of $6.5 million, one would expect that installing a new chairlift to replace the 50+-year-old lift would have been the top priority, especially since it will be the primary lift for the area, once the T-bar has been remove," wrote Smith. "I am not aware of any other area in this country, while upgrading their facilities, that has installed a 29-year-old used chairlift as their primary and only lift on the mountain other than the beginner hill."

    Smith said he now wants to "research the wisdom of this purchase by the RMRC."

    Of concern to Smith, and Stevens, the engineer contacted by Kuller in 2010 to weigh in on the purchase of Shawnee Peak's 1984 chairlift, are how the equipment has been stored since its purchase and the availability of replacement parts now that Riblet Tramway Company is no longer in business.

    "Ross Stevens is concerned as to how the lit has been stored over the past three years, which he said could (affect) some of the budget items he outlined in his report. He stated all the costs associated with rebuilding the chairlift and installing it needed to be updated since they are now three years old and could vary by more than 20%..." said Smith.

    Smith said he also contacted ski lift manufacturer Doppelmayr, which was contacted by the committee years ago when it considered buying a new lift for the Snow Bowl. According to Smith, a Doppelmayr representative recommends the town purchase a new lift over a used one for a variety of reasons, including life expectancy and long-term product liability.

    The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and this item is the only one on the agenda.