NY pols tone-deaf on Catskills issues

A map of the Catskills, in case anyone needs their memory jogged on where it is. Image via the NYS DEC.

Is it Snub The Catskills week in New York State? A couple of recent comments by prominent New York pols have us feeling a bit overlooked.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an appearance in the Adirondacks announcing that his proposed budget contains a $20 million investment in major upgrades for ORDA's ski facilities -- but only for the North Country's Whiteface and Gore, leaving out any mention of ORDA-run Belleayre Ski Center in the Catskills. 

The announcement was widely interpreted as a snub to the region by local pols and Belleayre advocates. State senator James Seward, a Republican whose 51st District spans the northern piece of the Catskills, issued a statement chastising the governor for leaving Belleayre out of his proposed ORDA upgrade:

“Belleayre Mountain Ski Center is a vital component of the economy in the Catskills and one of the many reasons people visit our region of the state. While the governor’s budget proposal includes an additional $20 million for upgrades at other ORDA-run ski facilities (Whiteface and Gore) he seems to have forgotten about Belleayre. As we work to fine tune the state budget in the coming weeks, I will be certain to remind him that Belleayre is deserving of added state attention.”

In 2015, Senator Seward secured a $1 million state grant to construct a new medical center at the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and vowed his support for additional funds.

“The state must make a strong commitment to support Belleayre Mountain, improve the facilities, and offer more reasons for tourists to visit the Catskills during the traditional ski season and year-round.”

State senator Kevin Cahill, a Democratic Assemblyman who represents most of Ulster County in the 103rd District, also vowed to fight for Belleayre funding, in a statement released to the Daily Freeman:

“As I have done every year since Belleayre was absorbed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, I will continue to fight to assure that Belleayre and the community receive a fair share of ORDA’s capital investment. That was the promise made when the Legislature allowed Belleayre to come under the ORDA umbrella. I intend to require ORDA and the governor to honor that promise.”

Local Belleayre advocates had plenty to say to the Catskill Mountain News, which ran a front-page story on the issue this week. In it, reporter Joan Lawrence-Bauer -- herself a former spokesperson for Crossroads Ventures, which is seeking to develop a private resort next to the ORDA-run ski center -- quotes several outraged Belleayre supporters. Here's Tom White of the Coalition to Save Belleayre:

“This is totally unacceptable. This governor has given us lots of lip service but we’ve had to beg and claw for every dollar.” White, who was a key player in a group of local leaders urging the transfer of Belleayre to ORDA control, added “this is a direct slap in the face to our communities and the entire Catskill Region.”

The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce has also taken Cuomo to task for the omission:

So far, Cuomo's office hasn't weighed in on the issue (we have a call in to Cuomo's press office, and will update this post if we hear back from them). It's possible that a separate announcement about proposed Belleayre funding is forthcoming -- but if so, the governor could have avoided an entirely predictable local dustup by mentioning it in his North Country announcement. 

Meanwhile, a little farther downstate, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio struck a tone-deaf note earlier this week in an announcement of $300 million for the construction of a city water tunnel

We know he's got bigger issues on his plate lately, but we couldn't let that one slide. 


As a region, the sparsely-populated rural Catskills is used to being overlooked in bigger political conversations, despite the region's critical importance to New York City and to the state at large. In a couple of weeks, a local delegation of Catskills nonprofits is headed for Albany for a "Catskill Park Awareness Day," to advocate for local funding and increased statewide attention directed toward the Catskills region. Looks like they've got their work cut out for them.