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Where do you stand on the Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion plan issue?

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion plan is still in the court's hands, but it remains after 21 years a hot-button issue in Ashland. There are websites, Wikipedia pages, newspaper articles, Op Ed pieces and letters to the editors detailing its history, mission and potential economic and environmental impact. Protesters have been arrested. City councilors have won and lost elections based on their position on the controversial issue.

The public has never been asked to vote on the expansion. Where do you stand: For or against, and why?

We invite your comments on www.dailytidings.com, the Tidings' Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/dailytidings ) and on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/ @dailytidings ). You can also contact us by emailing jeastman@dailytidings.com, faxing to 541-776-4376 or sending a letter to Ashland Daily Tidings at P.O. Box 1108, Medford, Oregon 97501.

For a comprehensive look at the Mt. Ashland issue that has been debated for two decades, including a timeline and links to more information, see www.dailytidings.com/mtashland.

To add to the conversation, here are two essays, one for the expansion, one against, from people who follow it closely:

Unique natural qualities need protection

By Tom Dimitre

An Acts Matter Essay

for The Tidings

The Middle Branch of the East Fork of Ashland Creek is a biological crossroads where east meets west, north meets south — a place so diverse that nearly two dozen rare species live here or have habitat here. It is an important and unique habitat for these species — some which occur nowhere else in the world — and others that occur in only a few other isolated places. It is virgin, old-growth forest at its highest quality. It is part of a wilderness quality zone that stretches nearly 10,000 acres over to Wagner Butte behind Talent.

Yet, the area is really defined by its abundance of water. Unlike the current ski area, there is water everywhere — and it runs all year long thanks to an ancient glacier that has created deep, sponge-like soils. It runs through meadows, sprouts from dozens of springs and feeds rare Engelmann spruce roots by running underground in natural "piping" conduits. It creates a tangled mass of nearly impenetrable bogs.

It is this fragile, high-quality habitat that is rarely found on private or public lands in the Siskiyous as well as the integral function that this areas plays in the sustenance of life for all of us and the water for wildlife, plants and the citizens of Ashland that make protection the best and highest use of the Middle Branch.

To clear cut the equivalent of 70 football fields of this unique place and to maintain these areas as clear-cuts would be to destroy the importance of this place for all creatures, for all time. We can and must do better.

Tom Dimitre is an attorney who lives in Ashland. He handles environmental, employment and civil rights cases, and is the chair of the Rogue Group Sierra Club.

The expansion is still relevant

By Kim Clark

An Acts Matter Essay

for The Tidings

After more than 20 years of planning and approvals, the Mt. Ashland expansion project is within sight. Why have we worked so long on this project and why do we need it? On Jan. 11, 1964, Mt. Ashland opened to the public. Our steep slopes for experts were an immediate hit but the lack of beginner terrain was a glaring shortfall. That was the main topic at the first annual meeting in May 1964 and has been the main complaint ever since.

Terrain balance is the key to our success and long-term health and financial viability. Eighty percent of all skiers and riders are of intermediate level and below, while Mt. Ashland's terrain is 78 percent advanced intermediate and expert. That means that we are underserving the majority of our current and new guests.

For over 20 years, we have paid for and participated in countless studies to expand into the skiable terrain that has always been in our Special Use Permit area. This expansion has seen many changes, modifications and hundreds of hours of meetings with stakeholders from throughout the region, including the City of Ashland, environmental groups and local and regional user groups. In fact, the Administrative Record has over 30,000 pages of documents on this project alone.

Each winter, more than 30,000 skiers and riders go right past Mt. Ashland to the abundant intermediate terrain on Mount Shasta. Each one of those folks represent lost dollars to the Rogue Valley and its communities. Those are dollars that help employ our neighbors and families.

The studies have been done and prove beyond any doubt with viable science that this expansion will not harm our watershed or habitat. It is time to let our local, non-profit, 501 c-3 ski area move into the 21st century.

Kim Clark is the general manager of Mt. Ashland Association.