Airing their grievances

An Ashland City Council majority voted to relinquish the city's permit for the Mt. Ashland Ski & Snowboarding Resort, but attached rigorous conditions — including that the Mt. Ashland Association raise millions of dollars before it can proceed with any logging or soil-disturbing construction for a planned expansion.

The decision came Tuesday during a council meeting that lasted almost until midnight. Council members listened to more than 100 people Tuesday and during an Aug. 16 meeting on the permit issue.

It's not immediately clear whether the Mt. Ashland Association board wants the permit badly enough to accept the conditions.

Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark said city staff will draft the new conditions. The Mt. Ashland Association board then will call a special meeting to consider the terms.

The conditions would require the association to raise funds for the first and most significant phase of its expansion plans before beginning any work. Phase I includes logging and construction to build new ski runs, ski lifts and an expanded parking lot. Clark said the cost of Phase I is $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

"One of the worst things that could happen would be they start and can't get funding and they have an incomplete expansion," said Councilman Mike Morris.

Without added conditions, the Mt. Ashland Association could potentially begin the expansion with much less cash on hand. The association has estimated the cost of logging operations at $300,000.

In planning for the expansion, Clark said the association board felt it should have somewhere between $300,000 and the cost of completing Phase 1 before beginning work. "The board feels we need a significant sum before we start the expansion," Clark said, adding he was not at liberty to say how much money has been raised or pledged so far.

Mt. Ashland Association officials have said they plan to pay for the expansion through fundraising efforts. Association officials wanted the city of Ashland to give up the ski permit — thus allowing the association to apply to become the new permit holder — in part because they believe that will boost their fundraising efforts.

Morris and council members David Chapman, Dennis Slattery, Russ Silbiger and Greg Lemhouse voted to give up the permit but with the conditions.

Councilwoman Carol Voisin voted against, saying giving up the permit would further the Mt. Ashland Association's ability to expand the ski area.

Several council members noted that the permit and an existing lease the city has with the association to run the ski area actually give the city very little control over what happens on the mountain.

Highlighting that lack of control, the city had to pay about $400,000 in settlement costs and legal fees after a judge ruled the city had violated lease terms by improperly trying to interfere with expansion plans in 2006.

"It was a pretty expensive lesson," said Morris, who was not on the council at the time.

If the Mt. Ashland Association accepts the council's proposal, the city could gain more power because of the conditions it would hold over the association.

The city would require the association to have $700,000 in assets for restoration if the ski area fails financially. That figure would be a doubling of the current $350,000 restoration sum.

"I've always been uncomfortable with the very low amount set aside if something goes wrong," said Councilman Russ Silbiger.

Another condition calls for the creation of a quality assurance/quality control team that would review and monitor expansion plans to help ensure environmental impacts are limited.

Yet another would allow the City Council to annually appoint a council member to serve as a voting member of the Mt. Ashland Association board of directors.

Before Tuesday night's meeting, the association had agreed to a number of other conditions if the city gave up the ski area permit. Those included that no sediment above normal amounts flow into Reeder Reservoir, which stores the city's drinking water.

The U.S. Forest Service would have to approve the association's request to become the new ski area permit holder.

The agency is conducting an internal review of objections filed against its decision to approve the expansion. That review is scheduled to end today.

If the Forest Service decides to uphold its approval of the expansion, an automatic 15-day waiting period will begin, said Steve Johnson, recreation specialist for the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District.

However, that doesn't mean that logging could start immediately afterward. The Forest Service still needs to receive expansion planning documents from the Mt. Ashland Association, Johnson said.

Association officials previously estimated that logging for the expansion could start as early as mid-September.

The Forest Service will examine the Mt. Ashland Association's finances. The federal agency would have a requirement — similar to the condition approved by the City Council — that the association have money to carry out at least the initial portion of the expansion, Johnson said.

Complicating the situation, expansion opponents are likely to race to try and get a court injunction to stop any logging if the Forest Service does uphold the expansion's approval.

Mt. Ashland Association board member Darrel Jarvis said he doesn't know yet whether the board will accept the council's conditions in exchange for the ski area permit.

"There probably will be concerns about additional burdens beyond what the Forest Service will impose," Jarvis said.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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