Balsams project still awaiting site plan as talks continue

8 years after first proposal, developer sill seeks Coos Planning Board OK

Nearly eight years after development plans were first proposed, site plan approval still has not yet been granted for the upgraded Balsams resort ski area.

Members of the Coos County Planning Board met Feb. 15 in Lancaster to discuss the application, and they requested information from the developer, entrepreneur Les Otten.

“They aren’t good to go until they have the state permits as well,” planning consultant and former North Country Council planning director Tara Bamford explained after the meeting.

The hearing was scheduled to be continued on Wednesday, March 8.

Topics to address and resolve include an AOT, or alteration of terrain report, a traffic impact study and wind turbines’ safety study. Bamford said some of the information came in later than desired for the county planning board to thoroughly review it. Grading and a drainage plan are up for future discussion, she said.

Les Otten, 73, said “restoring the Balsams is not for profit, but I think it’s something to do — benefit the community.”

Plans include building a new hotel, to be named Lake Gloriette.

In December 2021, the Berlin Sun reported that the nonprofit Provident Resources Group was to become a partner and investment bank Goldman Sachs would act as the proposed underwriter.

Otten has support for the project, including from Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier.

Two members of the county Planning Board from Colebrook said its town is eyeing the Balsams plans as an economic boost for the town. Colebrook voters are considering a school proposal to expand vocational programs with an enlarged career technical education center.

The project would bring in over 500 fulltime jobs plus 1,000 construction jobs and add to the tax base, Otten has said.

Wind turbine concerns

At the Feb. 15 meeting, a proposal to build wind towers for electricity was discussed.

During the meeting, Mike Waddell, a planning board member and chair of the Gorham selectboard, raised concerns about a possibility that if a person was hit by a chunk of ice that might accumulate on a wind turbine’s blade. Otten said he hoped hearsay of concerns around how wind turbine’s operate would not adversely affect any Planning Board decision.

“Anecdotal information is important to consider, but facts and science should be your guide,” he said.

Stratford resident and author Jamie Sayen spoke against the plans, citing several points, including a false statement that chemicals are used to make snow.

Sayen also questioned the project’s viability, as it has taken a long time to get approvals to proceed, especially with the site plan. Sayen, author of “You Had a Job for Life” about the closure of the Groveton paper mill, also spoke of a need for a water and air-quality study.

“As the climate and habitat are warming, perhaps that’s why investors are not coming forward,” Sayen, a 35-year northern New Hampshire resident said.

“The winters are very different from what they were when I first moved up here. This is a deeply troubled project with huge impact.”

Otten used the term “ghosting” to address Sayen’s comment, and said no chemicals were used in the snowmaking process, and there is no worry of any chemicals getting into the ground from snowmaking.

There are no chemicals used to make snow, the Sun confirmed with a person speaking on background and not associated with Otten’s project after the meeting.

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