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Forest Service will pay to finish Mount Ashland study

ASHLAND ' A draft environmental impact statement for expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area is back on track, thanks to renewed funding from the U.S. Forest Service.

Ashland District Ranger Linda Duffy said she recently received word from the Portland office that the agency will provide funding to complete the draft EIS.

I've just received direction to finish the draft. ... I've been told to finish the job, Duffy said.

She predicted the draft EIS could be completed as early as January.

The project was delayed earlier this year after funds ran out. Money became available with the new fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. It is estimated that &

36;80,000 to &

36;100,000 was needed to complete the draft EIS.

The ski area and surrounding environs are on Forest Service land and under the jurisdiction of the ranger district.

Jeff Hanson, ski area general manager, said he was pleased the ranger district will be able to continue work on the draft document.

Obviously, it's good news to us. ... They've put an awful lot of resources into it over the years, he said. There's an obligation on their part to complete the analysis and do it in a timely manner.

However, Tom Rose of the Rogue Group Sierra Club, said he questions whether the Forest Service should spend taxpayer money analyzing an expansion plan put forward by ski officials, especially when the ski area does not have the money on hand to complete the expansion.

The full expansion envisioned by ski officials would cost about &

36;3.5 million and would be funded by excess operating revenues and possibly a fund raiser, ski officials have said.

But Rose said Sierra Club members ' who along with a coalition of environmental groups have put forward an infill plan to develop new runs and facilities mainly within the existing ski area ' hope to work with Forest Service and ski officials.

We in the Sierra Club welcome the opportunity to work with the Mount Ashland Association and the Forest Service to perhaps resolve the issue of where and how the ski area can expand its services in an environmentally sound manner, Rose said.

According to Forest Service officials, the draft EIS will examine a range of expansion alternatives, including a no-expansion option, the ski officials' plan and the infill proposal.

The draft will be followed by a final EIS and a decision about which alternative to adopt.

The district previously released a draft EIS analyzing a no-expansion alternative, a proposal by ski officials and a scaled-back version of that proposal. But last year, Duffy announced the district would prepare a new draft EIS analyzing additional alternatives because of the large volume of public comments received on the first draft EIS.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456.