Dismissal of Belleayre Superintendent Tony Lanza leaves vacuum
HIGHMOUNT, N.Y. — More than a week after Tony Lanza was dismissed as superintendent of the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, there are no plans to put someone in charge of the facility on an interim basis, and the new management team slated to take over the mountain’s day-to-day operations by this winter is nowhere in sight.
Belleayre employees said on Thursday that the warm-weather activities at the mountain are continuing as planned and that department supervisors are running things in the absence of a superintendent.
The Belleayre Beach, a popular swimming and boating spot at the base of the mountain in Pine Hill, was open for business on the Memorial Day weekend, and it remains on schedule to open full time for the summer starting June 16.
The long-running Belleayre Music Festival also will go ahead as planned this summer, according to Mel Litoff, executive director of the festival.
“We just put the tent up yesterday,” he said on Thursday.
Litoff said although Belleayre has no interim superintendent, the department heads — including Joan Merwin, Tommy Tarr, Joe Straus, Dennis Ficheria and Phil Rion — have been working well with the music festival staff as they prepare for a season that will bring the likes of The Spinners, Josh Turner, Christine Ebersole and others to the base of the mountain.
Lanza was dismissed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation on May 22. The agency did not announce why he was let go, only that it had “information that warrants Mr. Lanza’s dismissal.”
This week, Litoff and other Lanza supporters stood by the dismissed superintendent, who many see as personally responsible for the increasing success of Belleayre over the past decade.
At the same time, though, they want to know why their friend and colleague was let go.
“We all miss Tony,” Litoff said. “He breathed life and excitement into this arena. I still don’t know what he is accused of.” Continued...
Lanza could not be reached for comment.
Joe Kelly, president of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, said on Thursday that he, too, has no idea why Lanza was removed, but he called Lanza a superior superintendent.
“Tony took over when there were only 70,000 skier visits, and a few years later we had 170,000 skier visits,” Kelly said. “That speaks for itself.”
In the meantime, Kelly is waiting for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs the Whiteface and Gore ski centers in the Adirondacks, to take over the operation of Belleayre, as mandated in the state’s 2012-13 budget.
But with June here, and the next ski season just a few months away, no on from the authority is at Belleayre.
John Lundin, a spokesman for the authority, said it still is working out the details of the Memorandum of Understanding between the authority and the state Department of Environmental Conservation and that there is no set timeline for the transition.
Kelly said the transition needs to take place soon.
“We have a ski season coming up. Tickets should be selling now. The coalition would like the transition ... happen faster,” he said.
State Sen. John Bonacic, a longtime Belleayre supporter, said in a prepared statement that Lanza “was a game-changer with respect to how Belleayre was seen in the ski world.”
“He took a facility whose leadership, justified or not, was perceived to be unenthusiastic and even disinterested in the ski industry and sought to breathe life back into the place,” said Bonacic, R-Mount Hope. “Whatever the merits or reasons for the (state environmental) commissioner’s decision relating to ending Tony’s employment, and I do not know them, Belleayre is better off as a result of Tony’s time there.” Continued...
Regarding the transfer of Belleayre to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, Bonacic said he has asked the authority and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to “discuss the status of the Belleayre transition in the next two weeks” with him and state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, “to ensure we have competent and enthusiastic management at the mountain in the future.”
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