A mountain of litigation

The only thing expanding on Mount Ashland is the number of lawsuits.

With a new suit brought by the Sierra Club and the Oregon Natural Resources Council, there are now four suits active in different courts relating to the Mt. Ashland Ski and Snowboard Area's plans to expand by 68 acres into the Ashland Watershed.

The Sierra Club and the Oregon National Resources Council are two of the parties that sued the forest service after it approved the expansion plan in October of 2004. Two days after the Sierra Club and ONRC filed the most recent suit, Mt. Ashland Association filed a law suit against the city of Ashland. Earlier this summer, the Sierra Club filed a third lawsuit against the forest service.

"This is getting crazy," said Mt. Ashland General Manager Kim Clark. "There's just one lawsuit after another."

It all started in October 2004, when the Rogue River-Siskiyou branch of the US Forest Service gave Mt. Ashland permission to move forward with its plans to add 16 new ski runs and two new chair lifts to the ski area. In January of 2005 environmentalists filed suit in a federal district court.

The Sierra Club, ONRC, Headwaters and Eric Navickas sued contending that the forest service didn't take into account threatened species and fragile areas of the watershed. In August of 2006, the case was heard by Judge Owen Panner in a Medford district court. In September, he ruled in favor of Mt. Ashland and the forest service.

The Sierra Club and ONRC subsequently appealed Panner's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the last step for the case before the Supreme Court. They also asked for a temporary injunction, so the project could not begin before the appeals court ruled on the merits of the case. The court granted the injunction in May and heard oral arguments earlier this month. Environmentalists have estimated a decision could take at least five months.

Meanwhile the City of Ashland stepped into the fray in October of 2006. At that time, the Ashland City Council voted unanimously to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service revoking Mt. Ashland's ability to deal with the forest service about obtaining a timber harvest permit to drop trees in the expansion area.

In February of 2007, Mt. Ashland told the city, via a letter, that it would file a lawsuit if Ashland continued to block its ability to work with the forest service. Earlier this month it followed through on its threat and filed suit in the same court the environmental groups sued the forest service in some two years earlier.

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