Ski resort contends it was duped by state official on planned western expansion
Lawyers began arguments yesterday in the latest leg of a longstanding civil dispute between the operator of Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury and state officials who blocked its planned expansion on the mountain’s western slope.
The case has been in and out of courts for years and has thus far fallen heavily in the state’s favor. But the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled last year that a key question had yet to be resolved: Did the Department of Resources and Economic Development knowingly mislead the operator, Sunapee Difference LLC, when its lease was signed in 1998?
Jim Higgins, a lawyer for the resort, insisted yesterday in Merrimack County Superior Court that it had, and that the misdeed had cost his client millions in lost revenue.
“They’ve been wronged, and we’re asking that you right that wrong,” he told Judge Larry Smukler.
Specifically at issue is whether then-Commissioner Robb Thomson lied by suggesting that the resort would have access to more land than it actually got.
When the state requested bids to take over the resort in 1998, it included a map depicting a shaded area available for lease. That map, however, didn’t show the actual boundaries of the state park, and the resort operator contends that Thomson subsequently led it to believe it would be leasing the northern and western boundaries of the park.
But Associate Attorney General Richard Head argued yesterday that there is no proof Thomson ever made such a suggestion. What’s more, he said, when Sunapee signed the lease it had its eye on an eastern expansion, not one to the west.
“There was no conversation, there was no expectation, no understanding of a potential development to the west,” he said.
Plans for an eastern expansion were dashed in 2000 due to an old-growth forest in the area, and a conservation easement blocks expansion to the south. A new department commissioner supported the western plan in 2005, but then-Gov. John Lynch refused to bring the issue before the Executive Council.
Higgins said yesterday that the resort’s former owners, Tim and Diane Mueller, who still operate the business, lost a potential $9.4 million when they were forced to sell during the recession. The venture would have been worth that much more had the proposed expansion been realized. Higgins said they had also invested more than $14 million in improvements to the resort since 1998.
The trial is scheduled to continue throughout the week.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, email@example.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)