‘Balsams Boondoggle’ balloons to $40 million in taxpayer-backed funding

By Kimberly Morin


On Friday it was announced by New England Ski Industry (based on a report by Chris Jensen at InDepthNH.org) that the amount of taxpayer-backed funding now being requested by Les Otten for the Balsams’ “renovation” is $40 million rather than the original $28 million. This on the heels of a report that Otten hasn’t even requested the proper permits to even begin working on the project.

The Balsams project has been a boondoggle from the very beginning. The last owners, who still have a share in the Balsams, bought it for dirt cheap then literally closed it up and stripped it of everything inside they could possibly sell. The buildings have been left to rot and are falling apart. Otten came in with a grandiose idea for the Balsams but couldn’t get his own private investors.

Last year the legislature passed Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Senator Jeff Woodburn (D – District 1) which would enable Dixville Notch unincorporated areas to become a “tax district” so they could get bonds for redevelopment. Of course, this bill was only brought forward because Otten needed bonds to get backing for the Balsams. It wasn’t made clear until after the legislature voted on this bill that Otten couldn’t even get some bank financing unless New Hampshire taxpayers would back him by guaranteeing a private bond to the tune of $28 million.

This is on top of the $2.8 million taxpayers are paying to fix the roads which will then be transferred over to the Balsams. And of course the $850,000 that’s being spent by taxpayers to build a tunnel for snow cats and snowmobiles. Why are taxpayers paying a dime for a private resort? Something about low-paying jobs that will someday be available to the people who live in the area.

The project was supposed to begin in June 2015 but there have been delays due to Otten not getting the proper permits necessary and not providing the proper detail for the Coos Planning Board to approve their site plan. This is not simply for a slab leak repair in Arlington and for a guy who has his hand out to the taxpayers of New Hampshire, one would think he would at least get the proper paperwork into the authorities so work can actually begin on the project. It’s now over a year later and still no work has begun.

Once again, this project and all the grandiose ideas about how it’s going to be so great are brought to Coos County by a man who had the same grandiose ideas for ski areas in Maine (Otten actually lives in Maine). Many of the things he said he would do there never got done and when he left American Ski Company, he left them with $400 million of debt.

Apparently legislators, the governor, the executive council and the Business Finance Authority (who has to authorize the bonds) don’t actually take a person’s record into account. No matter, it’s only New Hampshire taxpayers who will be on the hook for the money. And those dollar signs seem to be growing each year.