As another construction season nears, The Balsams Grand Resort continues talks with the Coos wind farmer owner and the state to determine the exact setback distance required around the wind turbines.
The resort’s redevelopment remains contingent on an expansion of its ski area, which, if enlarged, would be near at least half a dozen Granite Reliable Power (GRP) wind farm turbines in Dixville, on land owned by Bayroot LLC. The wind farm is owned by Brookfield Renewable Power.
On Friday, project spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said, “There are so many conflicting data points around the setbacks that it creates uncertainty for us and we can’t move forward until that uncertainty is taken care of. No one will invest. If there are questions, they need to be resolved, and that’s what we are working on behind the scenes.”
Before it closed in September 2011, The Balsams employed a total of about 300 area residents. A redevelopment on the scale proposed, which includes possibly quadrupling the ski area, could create at least 1,000 jobs.
Currently, however, there is confusion about setback distances, said Tranchemontagne.
According to the county’s safety plan with GRP, warning signs need to be posted on the access roads within 1,300 feet of the turbines to alert people of possible safety risks within that distance. In winter, the turbines shed ice.
That does not, however, prohibit recreational activity within 1,300 feet, said Tranchemontagne.
“There are hiking trails that go within 1,300 feet and a snowmobile and ATV trail that goes within 625 feet,” he said.
The agreement between GRP and the Tillotson Corp., the previous owner of The Balsams, states an actual setback of 500 feet.
“We can live with that,” said Tranchemontagne. “Now, we have to have Brookfield or the SEC or both come to a conclusion and say this is what it is … With a setback of 500 feet under any conditions and 1,000 feet under icing conditions, we can make this work, but we also have to define what icing conditions are.”
Many ski resorts across the nation and the world are near wind turbines and there are accepted industry standards regarding setbacks and safety, he said.
The Balsams’ Wilderness Ski Area currently encompasses 87 acres, more than a dozen trails and 1,000 feet of vertical drop.
On the project, the Balsams developers, who include resort owners Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse and ski resort developer Les Otten, are working with state officials, chiefly in the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development.
“The concept continues to be warmly received,” said Tranchemontange. “This would be a large development and a tremendous boon to the economy. We are talking about something larger than what The Balsams was before, a lot more jobs and a lot more revenue. We’re talking about a real economic engine.”
As examples, he pointed to the Sunday River ski resort village in Maine and Killington ski resort in Vermont.
“That’s the concept we are looking at,” he said.
With the current multi-phase redevelopment plan, the Balsams hotel renovations are tied into a larger phase that involves more than just the hotel.
“There won’t be much progress on the hotel renovations until we get answers to some of the questions,” he said. “We are working as expeditiously as we can with Brookfield to bring resolution to those issues, particularly on the issues with setbacks.”
It is hoped that all questions will be answered in the next few months, said Tranchemontagne.
“It’s a good time right now to be developing,” he said. “Interest rates are still fairly low and if you are financing a project this is a good time to do it. The longer you delay, the more costs will accrue.”
Otten will be the keynote speaker at the annual North Country Chamber of Commerce dinner May 22 at the Spa Restaurant in West Stewartstown.
More details on The Balsams’ plan could be given during the dinner, said Tranchemontagne.
A call placed to Otten Friday was not immediately returned.
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