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There are few things Italians do better than dreaming big against the odds. Take the multi-million-dollar plan that’s been in the works since the 1990s to build the world’s longest suspension bridge across the Straits of Messina in the heart of Mafia land. Or the very existence of the city of Venice, built on a lagoon system that’s now better protected from extreme weather by mechanical flood gates that took more than 20 years to realize.

Now, plans to build a multi-million-dollar ski facility on a snowless northern Italian mountain may prove equally challenging.

The bald mountain is the Monte San Primo, a gorgeous 1,682 meter (5,518 foot) promontory that accounts for much of the landscape view from the north end of Lake Como. The quaint cobblestone city of Bellagio, at its base, is known as the “pearl” of the lake for beauty that has lured A-list celebs (and wealthy Russians), who own the majority of lavish villas nearby.

But ever since the city of Bellagio last year won the backing of the national and regional government to fund a ski area project that it hopes will lure winter tourists, there has been trouble in this mountain paradise.

The plan, priced at 5 million euros (about $5.4 million), would see the construction of a large parking lot, toboggan runs and new lifts in an area that was a thriving ski destination 50 years ago, but closed a decade ago to winter sports as temperatures rose and snowfalls thinned.

Tourism dollars

While there has been considerable local support from those who think that reviving the mountain’s ski infrastructure will bring in vital tourism dollars, the plans have received an icy reception from environmental and sporting organizations.


A consortium of 33 groups, including the World Wildlife Fund and the Italian Alpine Club, which calls itself “Let’s Save Monte Primo,” has been trying to halt the project and raise awareness about the mountain’s ecological fragility.

Roberto Fumagalli, a spokesperson for the group, insists there are better ways to inject 5 million euros into the area that will still bring in tourism revenues. He says the group has been trying in vain to engage in talks with the project’s backers, including 31 local councils.

“We don’t want to wait until we are out protesting the bulldozers,” Fumagalli told CNN. “It would be more productive to sit down now.”

The group has a number of concerns about the proposed plans that run the gamut from environmental to logistical. Instead of revamping the parking lot, its members insist it would be more ecological to invest in public transportation; instead of artificially restoring snow areas, they would like to see hiking trails enhanced since shorter winters mean a longer hiking season.

They are also concerned about energy consumption by the snow-making machines, damage to the mountain caused by bringing in heavy equipment, and whether, given the proximity to better ski areas, the investment could eventually become a burden to local taxpayers if the project doesn’t eventually pay for itself.

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Fumagalli said the protest group could be willing to find a compromise, but only if the project’s supporters are willing to have a dialogue.

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