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Province fails to recognize potential of Marble Mountain: former board member

The view coming down Marble Mountain on the new Lightning Express chairlift Friday.
The view coming down Marble Mountain on the new Lightning Express chairlift Friday.

As the former Ski and Ride Club’s board member and as chairperson of the Marble Mountain Development Corporation (MMDC) board’s development committee I have continued over the years to question the minister’s and the government’s commitment to new opportunities at Marble Mountain.

As a volunteer board, we have done all the leg work necessary to identify a path and all the issues on that path, for government to act on significant projects, including opening the base area around the lodge to private sector development and the construction of a micro-hydroelectric generator utilizing the existing water intake pipes.
The board had its initial meeting with their new Minister, Christopher Mitchelmore in January 2016, and shortly after, on Feb. 29, the board decided to seek clarification from the minister on these projects and Marble’s direction.
The following is an excerpt from that letter:
...We share your desire to make Marble sustainable and will work with you to attain this goal. To this end we believe moving forward with base area development and private sector involvement is the best way to accomplish this.
As we move in this direction, clarification of the assistance we need from your office is useful. We defer to your guidance as to how this assistance can be attained with the least cost to all.
- The land assembly, now owned by NLHC will needs to transfer to the MMDC.
- Bylaw amendments will be required as the current bylaws restrict MMDC and partners from deal making.
- Expertise in lease terms, lease terminology etc., to ensure any lease arrangements get properly structured to support the long terms viability of Marble.
- Legal advice as required.
- Strategic marketing of the base area development.
- Other expertise as will be identify as this project unfolds.
We note with respect your interest in our “run of the pipe” (micro-hydroelectric project). This is a project we are very excited about as investment in it will reduce our operating expenses significantly over time. Giving full recognition to the dire straits our finances are in, we would be delighted for any assistance you can offer as to how this project may be funded.
The Board also seeks direction from your government as to the mandate of Marble Mountain Development Corp.
If we are to become sustainable, we must operate as a business as much as is possible. Some decisions, which can improve our sustainability, have been seen as competing with the private sector. In the past, public feedback has made the operation of Marble a political football. Previous administrations have bowed to that agenda and ostensibly clipped our wings. We need clear direction. Are we to operate as a business or are we to be a marketing tool for existing business? These are not mutually exclusive goals but can be interpreted as such. We could move forward with a more aggressive sustainability agenda based on a mandate letter from you as the only shareholder.

Unfortunately, the minister and his representatives have, for some unknown reason, failed to recognize the potential of these opportunities to make money and reduce costs.
To this date, nothing measurable has happened.

Why no new development at Marble?
Why has there been no new building development at the base of Marble for 18 years?
It hasn’t been due to lack of interest from the private sector.
It was and is due to government’s inability to move forward with a plan developed by the Marble board to remove government roadblocks and prepare for development. Proposals have come forward for private sector development of land but the Marble Mountain Development Corporation has been obligated to say, “thanks for your interest, government is reviewing the status of the land, we will get back to you when the situation changes."
Unfortunately for Marble and the area, it hasn’t changed for 18 years.
The former development committee — a group of volunteers — actively pursued the idea of base area development as an opportunity for increased revenue and traffic at Marble and in the Humber Valley.
We identified to government representatives on the board as early as 2014 the following issues:
- land ownership;
- the need for terms for access (land price, legal agreements, occupancy fees, developer responsibilities, etc.);
- the need for an agreement with the Town of Steady Brook on the shared water and sewer infrastructure before the land could be opened up for development.
We had a comprehensive base area development plan completed. We were not asking government for large sums of money for development, simply for them to assign individuals or a firm with the expertise to handle these issues so the private sector can have access.
To date there is no government champion assigned to this project and the volunteers had taken it as far as they can. Not one of the issues identified to the minister has been resolved.
As the minister responsible for business development in this Province, shouldn’t Minister Christopher Mitchelmore be doing everything he can to get government out of the way and let the private sector decide if the opportunity has merit?
Another initiative at Marble has unfortunately been stalled by government. As everyone knows Marble must make snow at times. Did you know that the water for snowmaking comes down the mountain to the pump house from a pipe intake above Steady Brook Falls? And the size of the pipe and the volume of water are sufficient for a micro-hydroelectric generator to be installed?
Bob Pike, former chairperson of the board took the idea initially to Memorial University’s engineering department for preliminary evaluation. Their report confirmed the feasibility of the project. The former board then commissioned an engineering firm to validate the calculations and provide project cost estimates. The engineering report was delivered in August 2014 and verified the feasibility of the project.
The project’s capital cost is surprisingly low and the return on investment short. Marble could significantly reduce operating costs and eventually increase revenue from net metering sales of power back into the grid in the off season.
This is not a new idea; other ski hills have micro-hydroelectric facilities in operation and are saving thousands of dollars on their hydro costs.
In any business, you make decisions to spend money to either make money or to reduce costs. Both are intended to achieve the same result.
The result for Marble would have been a better bottom line and less dependence on government for operating grants.
The Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation has been aware of this project since 2014. Why no action from this minister?

Jerry George writes from Steady Brook.

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