Hearing set on Cannon lease bill

The debate over whether to put the operation of the state-owned Cannon Mountain ski area on the auction block will be jumping out of the gates next week.

The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee will be holding a hearing Jan. 24 on House Bill 52, sponsored by Rep. Fred King, R-Colebrook, which would require the state to put out requests for proposals to lease Cannon, which is now run by the state Parks Division.

The ski area has been regularly losing money, and by putting it out for bid, it would get the type of private investment that – like the Mount Sunapee ski area – could turn the mountain around, he said.

“We sucked a million out of the state treasury last year,” King said. “If we leased it, we could require that someone make the necessary improvements, and probably pay us to do it.”

The state almost leased the operation of Cannon at the time it leased the Mount Sunapee Ski resort in 1998, but the Executive Council failed by one vote to approve the Cannon contract. One of the selling points of the Sunapee lease was that it would provide the money to make necessary improvements at Cannon, but with recent snow-scarce winters, the Sunapee surplus has not been large enough to meet bond obligations at Cannon.

Mount Sunapee became mired in its own controversy in 2004, when the operators there attempted to expand the ski area as part of a plan to develop condos on adjacent land. A previous bill sponsored by King to lease Cannon failed partly due to that controversy, when Republicans controlled a Legislature that is now run by Democrats.

Resources, Recreation and Development Committee Chair Judith Spang, D-Durham, said she is keeping an open mind on the issue, but stressed she would only support legislation that “would make sure that the state of New Hampshire stays in the driver’s seat when it comes to any development that might change the unique character and mystique of the Franconia Notch area by putting it in the hands of a private profit-making company which might threaten our ability to keep the Notch the way it is. “

She added: “If we are going to do it, we will do it with a lot of safeguards put into it.”

But King said that Cannon’s continued losses are just not acceptable. “Money is getting harder to find,” said King. “It’s harder to justifying losing money in a ski area when the park fund is desperate for money.”

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan . 24, in Room 305 of the Legislative Office Building. – BOB SANDERS

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