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January 7, 2019

Piscataquis County joins lawsuit against owner of Greenville area ski lodge

The Piscataquis County Commission has joined the state in a lawsuit against the owner of the Big Squaw Mountain ski area.

Joseph Donahue, one of the county's Portland attorneys, told the Bangor Daily News that commissioners seek to "return the resort to a once-again economic force for the region."

The state filed a lawsuit against James Confalone of Florida, the owner of the Greenville ski area, in 2016, claiming he used the property to secure more than $4 million in loans but failed to use that money to reopen the ski lift, trails and lodge, the Bangor Daily News reported at that time.

In 2013, the nonprofit Friends of Squaw Mountain reopened the ski area to skiing after landing a $1 one-year lease with Confalone. It was the first time in three years that the mountain had been open to skiing.

According to the Aug. 9 Piscataquis County Commission's minutes, Maynard Russell, of Greenville, a member of a steering committee working to revitalize the ski area, told the commission that Greenville and the surrounding region "suffers from a lack of winter business, needs to create more jobs to sustain the population, and residents believe alpine skiing could once again be a shining star if new investment could be attracted to the mountain."

Russell said the facilities at Big Squaw "have deteriorated since the property was purchased in 1995 by the current owners. The ski resort was originally sold in 1986 by the state of Maine at a below-market price with the understanding that the purchaser would invest in and improve the ski area and resort, maintain it and operate it as an attractive and safe resort for the people of Maine and the Greenville community."

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by the Maine attorney general's office. The law firm Preti Flaherty has assisted the attorney general's office and has also been working with the town of Greenville and the Moosehead Lake Regional Economic Development Corp., the minutes said.

The Big Squaw property is located in the Piscataquis Unorganized Territory, which is under the jurisdiction of the county commissioners. "The ultimate goal of the civil suit would be the sale of the property to a new owner who would be willing to make a substantial investment in restoring the ski area," the minutes said.

The ski area opened in 1963 as a small area of four trails. t had dramatically expanded by 1970, when the Scott Paper Co. bought it with the intention of developing it into a wilderness resort, according to www.newenglandskihistory.com.

Scott's first investment in the area was the installation of top-to-bottom snowmaking on the Penobscot Trail and lower T-Bar area — at the time it was billed as the largest snowmaking installation in the east in terms of vertical feet covered, according to the website.

Scott Paper gave the ski resort to the state in 1974 after losing money operating it. In 1986, the state sold the ski area to Big Squaw Mountain Corp. for $300,000. Big Squaw Mountain Corp. went bankrupt in 1990.

After a bankruptcy auction, the area underwent several management changes before Confalone bought the ski area in 1995.

In 2010, Confalone offered Piscataquis County a $1 a year, 30-year lease on the ski area, but the county declined the offer. The ski area did not operate from 2010 to 2012.

Starting in 2012, the nonprofit Friends of Squaw Mountain worked to reopen the ski area with donations and volunteer labor.

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