Sides square off over Mt. A ski expansion

The Mt. Ashland Association hopes for 71 acres of new runs, two additional chairlifts and an expanded parking lot. Total cost of the projects is about $3.8 million.MT file photo

Proponents and opponents of a planned expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area are mustering their forces in the wake of the U.S. Forest Service's May approval of the project.

Opponents are planning an anti-expansion rally from 4 to 7 p.m. today on the Ashland Plaza.

They also want to have a presence in Ashland's Fourth of July parade and are planning community meetings, a letter-writing campaign to local newspapers, mountain hikes into the planned expansion zone and workshops on how to file administrative appeals to the Forest Service before a mid-July appeals deadline.

The Forest Service will review the appeals internally for 45 days. If it affirms its approval of the expansion, the project could move forward.

The Rogue Group Sierra Club, which opposes the expansion plan approved by the Forest Service, is planning to fight the plan again in court with a new lawsuit if the Forest Service upholds its approval, club chair Tom Dimitre said.

The Rogue Group Sierra Club is seeking donations for more court challenges. It previously sued to try to stop the expansion during a years-long court battle.

A court injunction from that earlier battle is still in place, said Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark. That injunction will be lifted if the Forest Service upholds its approval of the expansion after the administrative appeals process, he said.

The Mt. Ashland Association hopes to move forward on logging to clear new ski runs as early as Sept. 16. It would have to secure permits for logging from the Forest Service, Clark said.

Logging plans could be blocked if ski-area opponents file a new lawsuit and quickly convince a judge to issue an injunction to stop the logging while a new case is being decided.

"If they file suit against us, if they don't get an injunction, we're free and clear to go," Clark said.

The Mt. Ashland Association has launched a fundraising campaign to raise money for the expansion. Ski-run clearing would cost about $300,000. The first and most significant phase of the entire expansion — which would include 71 acres of new runs, two additional chairlifts and an expanded parking lot — would cost about $3.5 million, Mt. Ashland Association officials have said.

In addition to fundraising, ski-expansion supporters are having their own letter-to-the-editor campaign and they've appeared on radio shows, Clark said.

The two sides remain in opposite camps when it comes to arguments over possible environmental impacts of the expansion.

Clark said clearing 71 acres will have a miniscule impact on the Ashland watershed, which contains the ski area, and restoration projects that are part of the expansion proposal will actually improve water quality.

Clark said the Rogue Group Sierra Club and expansion opponents are spreading lies that overstate environmental risks and underestimate the number of Ashland residents that ski on the mountain.

"They're just trying to break the ski area now and tie us up in litigation," said Clark, noting that the Mt. Ashland Association is a nonprofit group.

Dimitre said the Rogue Group Sierra Club supports the ski area's continued existence, but would like a more limited expansion that stays out of the Ashland Creek middle branch area in the watershed.

Dimitre said the Mt. Ashland Association should not move forward on logging if it gets the OK from the Forest Service. He said the association should wait for the Rogue Group Sierra Club to file a lawsuit in court first and see whether a judge will issue an injunction to block logging.

Otherwise, trees could be felled, a judge could then issue an injunction to stop the expansion, and the Mt. Ashland Association could be left with clearcuts but be blocked from building chairlifts and making other expansion improvements.

"They'd have a mess on their hands, the city of Ashland would have a mess on its hands and the watershed would be a mess," Dimitre said. "If they cut 70 acres and then can't proceed, that would be a mess."

Vickie Aldous is a Daily Tidings staff writer. Reach her at vlaldous@yahoo.com or 541-479-8199.


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