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Injunction filed against ski area expansion

The Rogue Group Sierra Club, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Mt. Ashland Ski Area's plans to expand, filed a court petition on Wednesday for a temporary injunction.

Tom Dimitre, the executive director of the environmental group, said its petition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would delay, if approved, Mt. Ashland's plans to start the expansion in June.

The Rogue Group Sierra Club appealed a court decision that approved the expansion.

"[The injunction> is something that can hold up the project while the court takes a look at it," he said. "If we didn't do an injunction, they would start on June — and the court ruling would be too late. The goal is to get a ruling before activity starts."

In September 2006, Medford-based U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner ruled against environmental groups, who sued the U.S. Forest Service for approving Mt. Ashland's expansion plans. The environmentalists, including the local chapter of the Sierra Club and Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas, promptly appealed the decision to the appeals court in San Francisco, which plans to start accepting legal briefs from both sides this summer.

The appeal contends that Judge Panner erred in his decision, according to Dimitre. The judge, he said, ruled that the project would impact nearly 20 acres of riparian areas, not the 2.5 acres that the Forest Service contended in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

"This was a significant finding," he said, "because [Mt. Ashland] has always said that there would be minimal impact on the watershed. Though the judge made this ruling, he did not require that the Forest Service reanalyze this issue and protect these fragile areas."

Mt. Ashland officials could not be reached for comment this morning.

On another front of the Mt. Ashland expansion legal and political wrangling, ski area representatives will begin mediation with the City of Ashland on Tuesday.

Ashland City Councilor Cate Hartzell, a member of the city's mediation team, said the two sides will meet at an undisclosed location in Ashland.

"I can't comment on where it is being held," she said. "That's the guidance from the city attorney."

She said the meeting will likely take "all day" and will involve the mediator travelling back and forth between the two groups. She also anticipates the two groups will sit down together at some point.

"I believe mediation will lead to a more clear understanding of what both parties need in terms of the interests of the public and skiers," Hartzell said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .