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Court asked to lift injunction on ski area expansion

Attorneys for the U.S. Forest Service have filed paperwork asking the U.S. District Court in Medford to lift an injunction that has blocked an expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area.

The lawyers filed the paperwork Thursday, said Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District Recreation Specialist Steve Johnson.

The lawyers argued that the Forest Service has corrected problems identified by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

In 2007, that appeals court directed the Medford court to keep an injunction in place until the Forest Service addressed violations of environmental laws the appeals court said the federal agency committed in its analysis of the expansion proposal.

Since then, the Forest Service has worked to address the issues by taking steps that include more studies of how the expansion could impact the Pacific fisher, a weasel-like animal with habitat in the expansion area.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, filed the initial lawsuit that led to the injunction.

Rogue Group Sierra Club Chairman Tom Dimitre, a lawyer, said the Sierra Club will have 10 days to respond to the Forest Service's request that the injunction be lifted.

He said the group plans to ask that the injunction remain in place.

At the same time, it will file a supplemental claim that the Forest Service hasn't analyzed a range of issues, such as climate change impacts on the expansion and the economic feasibility of the plan given today's economic conditions, Dimitre said.

"We're filing a supplemental claim to bring up new issues that they should have analyzed," he said.

Dimitre said he doesn't know how long it will take the district court to rule on whether to lift the injunction. He said some judges rule fairly quickly, while others take two to three months.

"I think the court will keep the injunction," Dimitre predicted.

Kim Clark, general manager of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, said he is pleased that attorneys for the Forest Service have formally asked for the injunction to be lifted.

"We feel this is how the process should work," he said.

Clark said if the injunction is lifted, the ski area will launch the active phase of its fundraising campaign for the expansion.

The first and most significant phase of the expansion will cost $3.5 million, ski area officials estimate. That phase includes new chairlifts and runs.

Mt. Ashland officials have said the ski area will not take on debt to finance an expansion.

Clark said he doesn't believe the Rogue Group Sierra Club should take additional legal actions to block the expansion.

"We feel the information and studies are out there. We do not see anything that they could find fault with," Clark said. "It's time to put this to rest."

The expansion calls for 71 acres of new ski runs, two additional chairlifts, three buildings, an expanded parking area, a tubing facility and other improvements.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.