(First appeared in the August 12 edition of the Vermont Standard)
By Gareth Henderson
WEST WINDSOR – Nerves are running high in West Windsor following the sudden purchase of Ascutney Mountain Resort.
Many at a selectboard meeting this week questioned whether the new owner would continue to operate the ski area, which is the economic engine for the region.
“The new management team has expressed interest in keeping the resort operating this year,” Selectboard Chair Glenn Seward said this week, before a crowded meeting room at town hall. “But it’s still very much up in the air.”
Seward also said that at least four parties have expressed interest in purchasing the resort.
Dan Purjes, a Wall Street investor who held a $1 million mortgage on the resort, bought the resort as part of a foreclosure proceeding against former owner Steve Plausteiner, according to a Wednesday report in the Valley News. Judge William Cohen approved the purchase in July, the article stated. Purjes and his representatives are not speaking to the media.
This matter surfaced last week, when Central Vermont Public Service nearly shut off power to the resort. At issue was an overdue balance that Purjes has apparently not paid. The shut-off would have stopped water and sewer service to over 200 year-round homeowners at the resort. CVPS provides power for the pumps that operate the water and sewer service for those homes.
Plausteiner told the Standard that the resort had been on a payment plan with CVPS throughout the winter, and that Purjes was aware of the overdue balance when talks about the sale began. The bill had reportedly reached $50,000 at the time of purchase.
“We had discussed the entire payment plan; it was part of the closing documents,” Plausteiner said. “I’m just not sure what’s occurred to cause everything to back up.”
Now, CVPS has given the parties involved until Aug. 19 to resolve the matter. It was unclear whether the utility would insist on payment of the debt as part of the solution. In the meantime, Windsor/Ascutney Sewage Treatment Enterprises (WASTE) has assumed responsibility for the 4.3-mile sewer line from Windsor. The line provides water and sewer to the Brownsville General Store, fire services in West Windsor, the resort’s hotel, and the homes under the Mount Ascutney Property Owners Association.
According to Hal Pyke, the West Windsor Planning Commission Chair and town representative to WASTE, the resort’s Act 250 permit allows WASTE to take over the 4.3-mile sewer line for 90 days if the resort can’t pay the bill.
“WASTE is trying to get ready to at least manage this system for a short time until all the players resolve [this situation],” Pyke said.
On Monday night, the West Windsor Selectboard took up the matter at its regular meeting before a very concerned crowd. Local resident Dave Halpert said he had “little confidence” in the resort’s management and asked “how the town was planning for the demise of the ski area.”
Seward said this was a very important issue, and that the selectboard has been discussing the matter. Seward also said those talks were “sidetracked” by the recent issues stemming from the resort’s overdue CVPS bill.
Another speaker wondered if it was possible to attract another ski area to operate the resort, such as Okemo. Seward said the town has been told that four parties are interested in buying the resort. Two of the parties were seriously interested, added selectboard member Bruce Boedtker.
“Okemo isn’t one of them, I can tell you that,” Boedtker said.
Also Monday night, selectboard member Tom Kenyon there has been an impressive “spirit of cooperation” around the issue of the CVPS bill. Seward said the utility and also the resort hotel’s owner Orange Lakes have been very supportive.
“Glenn and I and others have burned the midnight oil trying to keep that power from being turned off,” Kenyon said.
CVPS spokesperon Steve Costello declined to comment on individual customer accounts, but he said in general, “One can assume that in any of these kinds of situations, an extraordinarily amount of effort is going on to avoid problems for [the homeowners].”
Mount Ascutney Property Owners Association member Michael Gannon recently wrote to the town, stating, “I feel confident that we will be able to work together and find a solution to this serious situation.”
Association President John Bossen could not be reached by phone this week.
When contacted by this reporter, Mark Blundell – reportedly Purjes’ manager who works with Utah-based company UTVT – declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. Purjes’ attorney Christopher Dugan of Brattleboro was out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment.