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Our ski stance hasn't changed


The draft EIS answers the key objections of expansion opponents

Here we go again. The U.S. Forest Service is taking public comments through Sept. 23 on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mount Ashland ski area expansion. The Forest Service has selected a preferred alternative and wants to know what the public thinks about it.

We already know what opponents of the expansion think: that the project would threaten Ashland's drinking water supply for decades to come and that the cost of expansion will lead to bankruptcy for the publicly owned ski area if there is not enough snow in future winters.

We also know what we think: This newspaper has consistently supported this expansion as a prudent and necessary investment in the long-term viability of the ski area, and we are convinced that careful design and mitigation measures such as sediment traps will be more than adequate to protect the watershed. We see nothing in the draft EIS to change our minds.

The bottom line is this: Any expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area must be worth the expense to the Mount Ashland Association, the nonprofit corporation that operates the ski area for the city of Ashland. An expansion that is too modest to attract and keep more skiers is doomed to failure.

That means adding new novice and intermediate ski runs. Only 20 percent of Mount Ashland's existing ski runs are suitable for novice and intermediate skiers. Without new runs, it is difficult for Mount Ashland to compete with other ski areas in the region.

— Throughout the lengthy approval process, the association has scaled back and modified its plans to address concerns raised by opponents. Not surprisingly, this has not been enough to satisfy the opponents.

The three biggest objections to the plan are that it would damage the Ashland watershed and threaten the city's water supply, that the ski area doesn't have enough money to finance the expansion and survive bad snow years without collapsing, and that the project would damage rare plants.

The draft EIS clearly states that effects on the watershed would be minimal. In fact, one of the biggest objections ' that expansion would increasesediment deposits into Ashland Creek ' would be worse if nothing is done because the plans call for specific steps to reduce sedimentation.

The EIS also projects financial success for the project, as long as it accomplishes the goal of adding novice and intermediate ski runs.

Finally, the EIS projects no long-term threat to the survival of Engelmann spruce, Henderson's horkelia or Mount Ashland lupine. The Forest Service's perferred alternative would remove 41 spruce trees, compared with 60 under the ski area's proposal.

Like a slalom skier navigating a twisting course, the Mount Ashland Association for years has had to dodge obstacles thrown up by opponents of its expansion plans. It's time for those opponents to realize that they have succeeded in making this proposal much more environmentally sensitive than it was to start with.

Let's move on.