Ski Anthony Lakes owners want Baker County to take over resort

By ED MERRIMAN Baker City Herald June 11, 2010 09:38 am
County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. says county will ‘look really hard’ at the proposal

Baker County officials are considering a proposal from the owners of Ski Anthony Lakes for the county to take over the resort’s lease and assets and operate the ski area this winter.

Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, told members of the Baker County Economic Development Commission Tuesday that “we haven’t agreed to anything yet.”

“The Anthony Lakes group has brought this up,” Warner said. “They want it done. The county has agreed to look really hard at it and come up with a plan of action.”

Ski Anthony Lakes is located on public land managed by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, in the Elkhorn Mountains about 34 miles northwest of Baker City.

The resort owns the buildings and other facilities.

Bill Junnila, who manages the resort, said its owners submitted the proposal to the county.

“We do definitely have everybody’s best interests at heart,” Junnila said. “There is a bunch of meetings that have to be held. It’s obviously big news for the region, the county and the ski industry. It’s not something that’s going to be rushed past the voters or the people of the county. I am sure there will be a public information process from the county.”

Ski Anthony Lakes is owned by Lee and Connie Kearney of Vancouver, Wash., Kim and Dana Kutsch of Jefferson, Ore., and Parke and Gail Ball, also of Vancouver, Wash.

The three couples bought the resort in 1998.

Warner said the county is looking at the resort’s financial reports and cash flow to determine if the county can take it over and operate it on an interim basis without losing any taxpayer money.

From his initial look at the financial records, Warner said “It looks like they haven’t done too bad,” but a thorough review will be completed and subjected to public scrutiny before any decision is made.

Over the next few weeks, Warner said a committee appointed by the county will review all of the financial information, look at staffing and other costs, and come up with a proposed plan for taking over the resort, most likely on an interim basis.

“Unless something changes, I think we will get the assets. Our risk is being able to run it without taxpayer money,” Warner said.

Last year Lee Kearney claimed in a letter to the editor published in the Herald that announced the resort was raising prices for lift tickets and for food and drinks, that even with the increases he wasn’t sure the business could “operate at ‘break-even.’ ”

“Our customers may not be aware that we owners have never taken any money from operations over the past ten years,” Kearney wrote. “We need our customers’ financial help to bring (the resort’s) operations to a ‘break-even’ basis.”

Warner said that although he has not seen an appraisal, assets such as the ski lift, lodge and other facilities and equipment probably have a total value of well over $1 million.

“To my knowledge there is not debt,” Warner said.

During Tuesday’s EDC meeting, Warner said he was hoping that Union County would be an equal partner with Baker County in taking over and operating the resort on an interim basis, but that appears unlikely, due to some financial issues Union County is dealing with related to the Eagle Cap Excursion train and other tourism attractions.

Ski Anthony Lakes is located in Baker County, near the Union County line.

Because the ski resort is one of the area’s bigger tourist attractions, and one that boosts business at local motels, restaurants and stores, Warner said it would hurt the region’s economy if the resort were to close down.

In addition to the potential loss of income to other businesses, Warner said if the ski resort closes it would be a another blow to county tax collections, including the transient lodging tax that supports city and county marketing and economic development activities.