Wachusett Ski Area Receives OK for Expansion

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Princeton, MA, Aug. 17--The Suffolk County Superior Court judge who filed a temporary restraining order in July preventing Wachusett Mountain Ski Area from proceeding with a planned trail expansion, denied a request for a preliminary injunction on the project this week. That means the way has been cleared for the state Department of Environmental Management to give Wachusett the green light to start cutting the eight acres of trees it needs to clear to create two new trails at midmountain.

"We are obviously delighted," said Jeff Crowley, president of Wachusett. He added that any trail clearing would end in September to allow nativegrasses time to return to the area before the winter arrives, and said he hoped the new trails would be open in time for the Christmas holiday.

The trails will include an alpine terrain park and a designated race-training slope that, along with a 10,000-square-foot expansion of the area's base lodge currently underway, represent the last of a three-phase expansion of the ski area that has been in the works since 1993. The bill for the expansion will reportedly approach $10 million because of delays and court costs.

The Sierra Club of Massachusetts, Watchdogs for an Environmentally SafeTown and 17 private citizens filed a suit in August 1999 to halt the development because of its apparent proximity to the largest stand of old-growth forest in the state. But the resort came up with a compromise plan to assure no old-growth forest on the mountain would be touched and completed a Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Report at the state's request. Wachusett's efforts included two months of planning sessions that involved all concerned local and state organizations.

The judge seemed to agree that Wachusett's efforts to avoid environmentally sensitive areas combined with state reviews have satisfied any concerns that the public interest has been taken into account.

In his 17-page ruling, Judge Mitchell J. Sikora Jr. said that over the past seven years the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the DEM "have taken their statutory missions seriously and have exercised genuine care to assure the protection of the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation."