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New lawsuit filed against Mt. Ashland ski expansion

Environmental groups have filed a new lawsuit to try and block a planned expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area.

Filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Medford, the groups' complaint said the U.S. Forest Service failed to take into consideration new information that could impact the expansion.

In the complaint, attorneys for the Sierra Club, Oregon Wild and the Center for Biological Diversity said the Forest Service's environmental and financial analysis of the expansion is outdated.

The expansion plan approved by the Forest Service in 2004 already had been the subject of a lawsuit and multiple appeals.

In August of this year, a judge lifted an injunction that had blocked the expansion.

The Mt. Ashland Association, which runs the nonprofit ski area, has yet to begin any on-the-ground expansion work.

Among other issues, the new lawsuit said the expansion analysis failed to consider cumulative impacts on the Ashland watershed from the expansion and ongoing wildfire fuels thinning, potential climate change impacts on snowfall and skier visitation, and new state limits on the amount of sediment that can flow into Reeder Reservoir in the watershed.

Most of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area and the proposed expansion is in the watershed, the source of Ashland's water supply.

"A large amount of information has been developed since the expansion was first approved," said Marianne Dugan, a Eugene-based environmental attorney working for the plaintiffs.

Federal law requires government agencies to update their environmental analyses of projects if significant new information comes to light, Dugan said.

The environmental groups are seeking a new injunction to stop the expansion.

The complaint said the groups do not oppose some aspects of the expansion, including the development of a snow tubing facility, some widening of existing runs, new runs by a beginner's hill and watershed improvement projects.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark said the Mt. Ashland Association and its legal counsel are still reviewing the complaint after receiving a copy on Friday.

"At this time, we're not aware of any basis for us making any change in the expansion," Clark said on Friday afternoon.

The association and the Forest Service are still working out what will be the first phase of the expansion, Clark said.

The association and the city of Ashland also have an agreement that the association will have money for the expansion before beginning on-the-ground work.

The Forest Service decision authorizing the expansion detailed Phase I plans — including new ski runs and lifts — that would cost about $3.5 million to implement, according to 2011 estimates.

The association could carry that out or move forward with more limited plans, Clark said.

The association has not started fundraising to pay for the expansion since it doesn't yet know the extent or cost of the first phase, Clark said. The association did receive a $1,000 contribution for the expansion, but it was unsolicited, he said.

It is in the midst of a $350,000 fundraising campaign for its fiscal year to help pay for programs and operations.

The association has raised $248,000 toward that figure, with five months left to go in the campaign, Clark said.

"Every nonprofit has to do a fundraiser each year. All our bills are current," he said.

The Mt. Ashland Association has done past fundraising to cover losses on its operations.

The ski area opened on Dec. 6 after early snow hit the mountain.

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