Nearly 70 people showed up for an open house at Powder Ridge on Saturday for the chance to hear Sean Hayes present his vision for the abandoned ski area, including Portland First Selectman Susan Bransfield.
Bransfield's appearance might have been insignificant if not for a claim made this week by Middlefield resident Laura Williams.
Williams, who has created an online petition called "Save our Ski Area" that calls for the town to lease the property to the owners of Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park rather than sell it to them for $700,000, she felt that Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw hadn't properly vetted Browntone's proposal.
"I don’t think that Jon Brayshaw or anyone else reached out to the town of Portland," Williams said.
On Saturday, Brayshaw disputed Williams' claim.
"I see [Susan Bransfield] on a regular basis. Susan and I have talked several times about Sean Hayes and about Brownstone, going back to December," Brayshaw said.
Bransfield's relationship with Brayshaw and Hayes is significant because of Brownstone's success in Portland. Since opening the water park in 2007 under a lease agreement, the company has turned the town's historic but abandoned brownstone quarries into a multi-million dollar business.
As a result, Portland has received more than $500,000 over the past five years from a share of Brownstone's gate fees.
Williams, according to her petition which had been signed by 11 people as of Saturday, would like to see a similar deal in Middlefield. She recently visited Bransfield to request the lease agreement between Portland and Brownstone, as well as other financial information.
Brayshaw called Williams' actions "unprofessional."
"I honestly am embarrassed. I think it was very childish and very inappropriate for Middlefield citizens to make their way to Portland, take two hours out of the first selectman's day and then come back and use it in a manner that was never imagined by the first selectwoman," he said. "What they're doing is they're turning this thing into a soap opera."
Bransfield has been supportive of Brownstone, Brayshaw said, and he's invited her to attend a second public hearing on Hayes' proposal in Middlefield.
Brayshaw said the town will not offer to lease the property to Hayes because of the significant investment needed to restore the property. Hayes has previously said he would initially need to spend between $4 to $5 million to reopen Powder Ridge.
"It is what it is. We're not leasing, we're selling," said Brayshaw. "That's the way the previous deals were structured and the people voted 10-1 to go with it. We want [Hayes] to be successful. We want him to make the place a shining example of what can be done to bring something back from the brink."