GREENVILLE — One of the first snowfalls of the fall made for a dark, wet day Thursday in downtown Greenville, but Mike Boutin smiled out at the slushy roads around Moosehead Lake as he spoke about the winter ahead, the winters Greenville once knew, and the lawsuit against the owner of the local ski area. Many others in town were smiling, too.

“We want our mountain back, we want our community back,” said Boutin, owner of Northwoods Outfitters. “He doesn’t have many friends in town. This has had a trickle-down effect and hurt everyone.”

James Confalone is being sued by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which filed a lawsuit on July 28 claiming that he has failed to maintain Big Squaw Mountain ski resort in Greenville as required under the terms of a sale more than two decades ago.

In 1986, the state sold the ski area at “below market price,” according to the Attorney General’s complaint, “with the explicit understanding that the purchaser would invest in and improve the ski area and resort, and maintain and operate it as an attractive and safe resort for the benefit of the people of Maine and the Greenville community.”

Confalone, a Florida resident who is owner of Moose-head Mountain Resort Inc., purchased the mountain and ski area in 1995 from another owner for the below-market price of $550,000, the complaint says. All the terms of the 1986 Trustee’s Deed remained, requiring that the ski area continue to run at full capacity. According to the compliant, that hasn’t happened.

In 2001, the ski area closed and, according to the complaint, never fully reopened. In 2004, the ski lift servicing the upper part of the mountain injured four people and never ran again.

The ski area was restarted in 2013 by the Friends of Squaw Mountain, but only the lower half operates now, while the lodge runs on a shoestring budget.

Confalone’s attorney, Charles Cox of Newport, did not return an email request Friday seeking comment.

The first mediation in the lawsuit will be heard Dec. 15, said Assistant Attorney General Thom Harnett. And residents in Greenville can’t wait.

Many residents and business owners hope the state prevails in the lawsuit and manages to get the ski area running again at full capacity as it did before Confalone purchased it.

“He never really opened the hotel. The place is in shambles. If you look inside it now, there’s snow inside it,” said Raymond LeClair, who owns the Rod-N-Reel Cafe with his wife.

In downtown Greenville, some restaurants close for the winter. One former lake-front pub is boarded up. And the crowds just aren’t here as they once were in winter, locals say.

“It’s about time he is going to be taken to task and have to answer for his actions,” said Karen LeClair. “I would say 95 percent of the people in town will tell you the same thing. He has held the mountain hostage for 20 years.”

Next to the high school and hospital, the ski area was one of the biggest employers in the area, said Bob Edgerly, who works at Harris Drug Store in the center of town.

Christopher Winstead, executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, said the difference in traffic in Greenville in the winter since the Friends of Squaw Mountain opened the mountain again has been noticeable.

“When the Friends group opened the mountain, there was an increase in business in town,” Winstead said. “It speaks volumes to what would happen if the mountain was given the opportunity to fire on all cylinders.”

Those old enough to recall the heyday of the ski area back in the 1960s and ’70s said skiers traveled to Moose Mountain from around New England for the classic old-fashioned ski trails and the views across Moosehead Lake.

Boutin said from the summit trail of Moose Mountain, the panoramic vista was spellbinding.

“You not only look over that beautiful lake,” Boutin said, “you look to northern Maine and the western mountains and Canada. It’s a wilderness. It hasn’t been overdeveloped. I’ve skied all over the country and Canada; there’s nothing like it.”

At Harris Drug Store, Cindy McNinch sat at the old-fashioned ice cream counter listening to coworker Bob Edgerly talk of how in the 1970s, the dining room at the ski area’s hotel would be so packed for dinner and then breakfast that high schoolers who worked at the mountain had to stay overnight at the hotel to serve the hundreds of customers.

A Greenville native, McNinch said the ski area was unlike any other in New England.

“The view of that lake and the mountains, it left you speechless,” McNinch said.

But Greenville’s business community says the ski area’s decline has crippled the town.

“I nearly went out of business three or four times,” Boutin said.

Yet the former Alpine ski shop owner who now caters to snowmobilers believes his business will again serve throngs of skiers one day.

“I am 110 percent certain if the mountain came back, the crowds would be back,” Boutin said. “It is not the biggest ski area in Maine, but it’s the most unique with that lake and those views.”


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