Expansion fine print flummoxes council

Ashland councilors vote to send proposal for further clarification

ASHLAND — After reading the fine print of its agreement with the Mt. Ashland Association, the Ashland City Council felt it was unclear whether the requested "limited expansion" was, in fact, the start of the major expansion — in which case all $2.2 million for the controversial job would have to be in the bank.

The council voted to send the MAA back for talks with the city administrator and city attorney to amend the agreement so that "phase one" clearly only meant widening of existing trails, smoothing the beginner's slope, and creating 101 sorely needed new parking spaces.

The cost would be $250,000.

The council chambers were packed as citizens complained the MAA and the city were on the verge of violating agreement language stating that logging, earth-moving and construction may proceed only when cash, performance bonds, or binding pledges for the entire project are on hand to cover "phase one" improvements.

Councilor Carol Voison questioned Mt. Ashland General Manager Kim Clark about erosion control and who is liable if the project stalls for want of more money. She said the contemplated projects are phase one and, therefore, the full $2.2 million must be on hand.

Mayor John Stromberg agreed, saying he thought "phase one" meant the entire project, raising the question of what's covered by future and as-yet-undefined phases.

Clark told the council of progress on getting timber and parking lot permits, adding that work would start April 24 on widening runs. Falled timber would be hauled over snow, with no impact on soils, he said. The parking lot would be done in August, with soil from that job used to lessen the pitch of the bunny slope.

Many residents spoke, almost all in opposition.

Nancy Nelson said the Environmental Impact Statements from the beginning of the decade-old expansion battle are outdated by new data on global warming, deforestation and world water shortages.

Andrew Kubik cautioned that MAA historically has had financial difficulties, and if it defaulted, "Ashland taxpayers would have a unique and significant burden to bear, that of a compromised watershed infrastructure precipitated by a financially failed recreation project."

Ron Roth supported the initial expansion, noting many users have to park a mile from the lodge. "To build more parking and widen runs," he said, "will have almost zero environmental impact."

In debate, Councilor Dennis Slattery said the projects are low impact and are not phase one of the expansion.

Councilor Pam Marsh called them "reasonable, affordable improvements" that should handle "constant complaints about parking that I hear. When we get into the true expansion, we will want to have all the money" on hand.

Councilor Mike Morris said it isn't phase one, and he sees "no problem with this."

Mayor John Stromberg said the MAA "is not acting in bad faith" and suggested it confer with city staff on amendments defining the conditions of all phases beyond this initial phase. It passed, with only Voison dissenting.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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