Forest Service reaffirms ski area expansion plans

It plans to seek reversal of a court injunction halting expansion work

The U.S. Forest Service regional forester in Portland has reaffirmed the agency's decision to approve a Mount Ashland ski area expansion, Forest Service officials said on Thursday.

More than two dozen individuals and groups had filed administrative appeals of the agency's approval. Those appeals were considered internally by the agency at the regional level.

The Forest Service now plans to return to U.S. District Court in Medford to try to get a previously imposed injunction against expansion work lifted, Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger Donna Mickley said.

The Forest Service wants to make sure that issues raised by the court have been satisfactorily resolved, including concerns about potential impacts to the Pacific fisher and landslide hazard zones, she said.

Mickley said she has no estimate of how long that judicial process will take.

Environmental groups that include the Rogue Group Sierra Club have been battling the proposed expansion in court for years.

Rogue Group Chairman Tom Dimitre said the groups will oppose the lifting of the court injunction. If it loses that battle, the Rogue Group will go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to try and have the injunction reinstated, Dimitre said.

Also, in a few weeks, the group plans to file an entirely new lawsuit against the expansion, Dimitre said.

Dimitre said he believes Oregon Wild and the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity likely will join the Rogue Group in the new lawsuit.

In the meantime, a 15-day waiting period has begun in which no expansion-related work can occur on Mount Ashland, Siskiyou Mountains Recreation Specialist Steve Johnson said.

The Mt. Ashland Association also needs to deliver a range of planning documents to the Forest Service, and get assorted permits for expansion work, he said.

Johnson said the Forest Service will determine a new sum the Mt. Ashland Association must have to restore the ski area should it fail financially. That amount is set at $350,000, according to city of Ashland officials.

On Tuesday, the Ashland City Council voted to give up the city-controlled permit for the ski area if the Mt. Ashland Association increases the restoration figure to $700,000, agrees to raise millions of dollars to pay for expansion work before beginning any logging, and abides by other conditions.

If the association agrees to the terms and the city gives up the ski area permit, the association could apply to the Forest Service to become the new permit holder.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or by email at vlaldous@yahoo.com.


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