Still an uphill battle

The latest appeal of a Mt. Ashland Ski Area project shows foes' true colors

The Mt. Ashland Association has successfully widened some existing ski runs, but a new appeal from a longtime foe of anything the ski area does threatens to delay a plan to expand the parking lot in time for next winter's season. Any credibility that former Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas once may have had has now evaporated — along with that of other critics who agree with him.

The nonprofit ski area, blocked for years from pursuing a planned expansion project by federal lawsuits from environmental groups, decided to go ahead with separate plans to widen existing runs and enlarge the parking lot to accommodate more vehicles. The groups had encouraged the ski area to improve existing runs rather than build new ones.

The parking lot improvement appears to be a different story. Jay Lininger, wildland ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in a new federal lawsuit against the still-stalled expansion plan, said that, like Navickas, the groups do not support the parking lot expansion.

The opponents' central argument has been that building new ski runs would increase erosion in the Ashland Creek Watershed, which supplies drinking water to the city of Ashland. But the parking lot is on the opposite side of the mountain from the ski runs and is in a different watershed.

The Mt. Ashland Association plans to enlarge the parking lot entrance to create 101 new spaces, easing the problem of overflow parking along the sides of the access road on busy days. Dirt and rock excavated during the parking expansion will be used to recontour the Sonnet beginner ski run, which is too steep in the middle for a beginner run.

Jackson County is handling the permit process for the parking expansion, so Navickas has filed an appeal with the county, which will delay the work. The Sonnet run does lie within the Ashland Creek Watershed, but improving it would seem to meet the opponents' desire to confine improvements to existing runs.

Navickas argues the ski area should put more effort into a shuttle service rather than expanding parking. But previous attempts to run a shuttle service failed for lack of riders. Rogue Valley skiers simply prefer to drive the short distance to the mountain rather than use a shuttle.

When the lot is full, skiers either park along the road, creating a safety hazard and impeding emergency vehicles, or they go home or to the Mount Shasta ski area, depriving Mt. Ashland of revenue. Expanding the lot is a reasonable response to that problem, but Navickas has chosen, once again, to be unreasonable.

Lininger says his organization and the other plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit also do not support the parking project, so they presumably support Navickas' latest obstruction.

Ski area opponents should be careful that their decades of relentless efforts to kill the expansion project do not hurt their cause in the long run. They have hijacked a permitting process designed to hear public objections and address them by raising new objections every time they are thwarted by the courts. Eventually, they may find that process changed as a result of their tactics, and not to their benefit.

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