Judge to make call on lift maintenance at Hermitage Club

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NEWFANE — For now, the extent of lift maintenance starting up at the Hermitage Club's foreclosed private ski resort depends on Judge Robert Gerety.

The judge said he will issue an order soon that in addition to determining how much work is needed on the lifts, will decide whether to approve the court appointed receiver's two reports.

"I'm hoping that your work on financing this actually produces something," Gerety told Hermitage officials Thursday during a hearing in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division. "I guess it would be misconduct for me to contribute to the refinancing so I won't do that."

Berkshire Bank foreclosed a number of Hermitage properties in February and company officials have been trying to secure a loan to reopen the resort this winter. The bank is lending about $309,000 for receiver Alan Tantleff of FTI Consulting to protect and preserve properties until they are sold.

"It was a bit of a challenge to put the budget together," said Elizabeth Glynn, attorney for Berkshire Bank, as an order from Judge John Treadwell did not give her group access to Hermitage records.

The biggest item for clarification, Glynn said, has to do with preparing the Haystack Mountain resort for winter, if it is going to open. She said there were ambitions to have the foreclosure process completed before winter and Treadwell's order made mention of getting the mountain ready for skiing.

"While I think great progress has been made, we're not to the conclusion of this foreclosure," Glynn said, calling for the court to allow for only minimal chairlift maintenance.

Tantleff has estimated it would cost $300,000 to get the lifts ready to run for the winter.

"So the expenses for this Hermitage, they're huge," Glynn said, telling the court how the bank has paid about $600,000 to Wilmington and $60,000 to Dover for taxes, a sewer and water assessment to Cold Brook Fire District, and insurance bills. "It's a lot. So we're now talking about putting another winter budget on top of all this and what the receiver was to do was to mothball the operation and make it valuable collateral."

Hermitage attorney Bob Fisher said the receiver and Hermitage staff have talked about the annual process of getting lifts inspected and maintenance workers certified. He told the court the foreclosure "may all go away" with refinancing but that is not yet completed.

An appraiser was expected to be looking at properties Thursday.

"I don't expect the court based on that representation to say, 'Go make the mountain completely ready to open,'" said Fisher, adding that lifts would need the "longest lead time" to prepare for mountain operations.

Tantleff said eight employees are taking care of about 800 acres of property, several buildings and inns.

"They have gone above and beyond in many instances," he said. "We are now turning our attention to winterizing all of the buildings and winterizing the golf course."

Ron Sherritt, director of mountain operations for the Hermitage, said a second lift mechanic will be coming back to help on Nov. 1. He called the situation "not perfect" but "better than nothing."

Sherritt anticipates it would take about six weeks to get each chairlift ready to run — that's in warmer weather with four mechanics and possibly other help. He could not predict how much time would be needed for unexpected maintenance items or equipment replacements that come up.

"There are a lot of variables," he said. "One of them being: We haven't touched these chairlifts since March. We could have had lightning strikes."

He said an assessment would be needed.

Haystack has four chairlifts and the Hermitage ideally would like to have at least two lifts running so beginner to expert terrain could be offered. Glynn said the "very big, fancy, new" Barnstormer lift may not be part of the bank's collateral.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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