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Powder Ridge Contract Under Review, Resident Challenges Legality of Meeting

Middlefield selectmen and the town's attorney met earlier this week in executive session to discuss the sales agreement between the town and Brownstone owner Sean Hayes, of Portland.

Middlefield selectmen met earlier this week to review a nearly 60-page proposed contract to sell Powder Ridge ski area to Sean Hayes, owner of Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park in Portland.

The special meeting on July 2 took place in executive session and lasted about three hours. The meeting ended with selectmen agreeing to make a few, minor adjustments to the propsal before voting on whether to send it to voters.

The meeting itself might have been uneventful, except for the fact that several Middlefield residents showed up to town hall prior to the meeting to question whether town officials should be negotiating the contract behind closed doors.

"The reason I showed up [Monday], first of all the meeting got posted on Friday afternoon at 2:25 p.m. It was not posted on the website, which is now required, a minor point but important because nobody knows that these meetings are going on," said Marianne Corona, who challenged the legality of the executive session and urged selectmen to hold the meeting in public.

Corona was joined at town hall by Middlefield residents Jim Brown, Cheryl Pizzo and John Augeri.

The group spent about 45 minutes with selectmen and town attorney Kenneth Antin, according to Corona, and raised concerns about the openess of the negotiations between the two parties.

The proposed agreement, according to First Selectman Jon Brayshaw, is nearly complete. Brayshaw told Patch on Tuesday that a public hearing on the contract could be held as early as this month and would be followed shortly thereafter by a town meeting where residents would have the chance to vote for or against the proposal.    

But Corona said residents should be allowed to have input on the contract during negotiations. She also said residents should have the chance to vote on the proposal before it is authorized by selectmen.

"[Powder Ridge] is something that is town owned," Corona told Patch on Tuesday. "The public needs to see the contract before you ask them a 'yes' or a 'no.'"

Corona and several other residents to sell Powder Ridge. She said she went to town hall on Monday in an effort to "let people know what's going on."

"I'm not trying to poke at this, at right or wrong or whatever's going on, but to get more of this exposed for the public. This is probably the biggest real estate deal we're ever going to encounter," she said.

According to Brayshaw, Monday's meeting was the first time selectmen themselves had reviewed the proposed sales agreement in its entirety. He said he is cautious about making the document public until it's "perfect."

"It's a work in progress but it's coming into the home stretch," he said.

Brayshaw said the meeting met the requirements of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws and called Corona's challenge of the meeting "misleading." 

"She accused me of having it at a time where people couldn't attend. The truth of the matter is [selectman] Dave Burgess was going on vacation [Tuesday]. We didn't do it to be clandestine, we did it to be kind and considerate of Dave's vacation plans," Brayshaw said.

Hayes has agreed to purchase Powder Ridge for $700,000 and said he plans to invest another $4-$5 million into the property. 

Last week, Hayes said he was "."

Accordng to Brayshaw, Hayes has secured financing for the deal through private investors but continues to keep his financing options open. A financial audit, Brayshaw said, is still in progress.

Selectman will meet again in about a week to review the changes to the proposed agreement.

"It deserves not to be rushed," Brayshaw said.

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