On March 7, the voters of Killington will be asked to authorize up to $47 million in funding for the Killington Forward initiative. These funds will support construction of a pipeline to develop a municipal water system that will provide water to the proposed Six Peaks Village and, with additional future funding, properties along Killington Road. In addition, the initial funding will support reconstruction of portions of Killington Road. This proposal has been controversial for some for various reasons, not the least of which is the risk to Killington taxpayers. I was at first adamantly opposed to this proposal, seeing it as nothing more than a potentially risky scheme to support private development of little benefit to the general public and, as the resort neither owns nor controls the land on which Six Peaks would be built, I saw the proposal as detrimental to the resort itself and the skiing public. My views have evolved somewhat since the initial TIF application and at this point I am more open to the proposal.
When the Select Board first applied to the state for Tax Increment Financing approval, the application and its supporting arguments were, to put it nicely, a “stretch.” My reaction to it and my comments, at public hearings and in writing to the VEPC, were a reflection of the application’s fantasy. The VEPC, recognizing the “stretch” nature of the application, asked the Town to scale back its request. The revised application was far more realistic and was approved on the basis that the VEPC would require additional review prior to final approval. That approval was given several months ago and Killington voters are now being asked to approve project funding.
My views have evolved for one reason and one reason only – the need for a municipal water supply for properties on or near Killington Road. The water quality problems here are now far more widely known and understood than even a year or two ago. By making the Six Peaks water supply a municipal rather than private supply, Federal and other funds are available that would not necessarily be available otherwise, and this may translate into even more funding available in the future for extending the pipeline down Killington Road from Ravine Road to Route 4. Having a clean, reliable water supply will potentially enable so-called “affordable” housing to be built somewhere near Killington Road. That type of project apparently cannot be built without municipal water.
As to the financial risk to Killington taxpayers, the Development Agreement between the Town and the developer, Great Gulf, provides reasonable assurance that taxpayers will be protected from delays in or failure of Six Peaks development. Contrary to some Select Board comments, however, it is not ironclad. Great Gulf, a Canadian corporation, will assign this Agreement to what will probably be a single purpose US entity, without any formal parental guarantee, thus allowing the new entity (if things go poorly) to declare bankruptcy without endangering the parent, Great Gulf. This is a normal practice in the development business and, while unlikely, the possibility for failure certainly exists. A bankruptcy court could, at least theoretically, alter the terms of the Agreement leaving taxpayers holding the bag financially, or even taking ownership of the real estate in question. The question that has needed to be asked of Great Gulf is whether they would agree to provide a surety bond to ensure payment of their obligation in case of bankruptcy and if not, why not. That question has not been asked nor answered.
So where does that leave us? We have a development agreement with a solid developer that is good, but certainly not perfect from the town’s point of view. We have the possibility of future water supply to correct issues with water contamination along Killington Road which may also bring the town so-called “affordable housing”. Neither is certain but neither can occur without first bringing water to Six Peaks Village, which includes a relatively low probability risk to the Town. We will have years of development disruption as Six Peaks is built out and we will see a redesigned parking regimen that will be inconvenient for skiers and riders who used to park right at the mountain.
Each Killington voter will have to decide whether the financial risks are outweighed by the benefits (are you ok with a belt or suspenders or will you insist on a belt and suspenders?); whether relocation of resort parking to a remote/shuttle system is in everyone’s best interests, and; keeping “the law of unintended consequences” in mind, whether the changes that will result from this project are in the best long-term interests of Killington residents and visitors. I will, with some reluctance and hesitation, be voting in favor of the bond issue on March 7 and hope for the best. The choice is yours.