City Council approves $50K for ski area fight

The Ashland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize spending up to $50,000 to defend the city against a lawsuit filed by the Mt. Ashland Association.

Prior to the lawsuit, the city had already spent $52,000 for outside legal advice and help with failed mediation talks between the city and Mt. Ashland Association, according to figures provided by Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg.

That amount does not include city staff time spent on the issue.

The city of Ashland holds the special-use permit for the Mt. Ashland Ski Snowboard Resort but leases the operations of the ski area to the Mt. Ashland Association.

The association filed a lawsuit Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court claiming the city of Ashland had violated the terms of the lease by interfering with ski area expansion plans.

The Mt. Ashland Association is defending itself against a lawsuit in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought by environmental groups who oppose the ski area expansion.

The City Council is seeking a detailed business plan about the expansion, assurances that the Mt. Ashland Association has enough assets to restore the mountain if the ski area fails and formation of a quality-assurance technical team to oversee construction of the expansion.

This week, the council indefinitely delayed plans to issue a request for proposals and bids from forest, soil and water experts interested in serving on the three-member technical team.

Some council members worried about whether the Mt. Ashland Association would cooperate with the technical team and help the city pay for it. The costs for the team are not known yet.

"It will cost us, and I expect we'll have to bear the cost of that," Councilor Russ Silbiger said.

Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown, who has responsibility for the city's drinking water, first proposed formation of the team to the council in 2003.

She said quality-assurance teams are commonly used on large federal construction projects.

The team would review construction plans, help with measures to control erosion, monitor for impacts and require corrective action if problems are found.

The City Council has also debated the makeup and duties of an advisory group for the technical team.

The advisory group could include representatives from the city of Ashland, Mt. Ashland Association and environmental community.

Kim Clark, general manager for the ski area, said the Mt. Ashland Association is not interested in participating in the advisory group for the technical team.

"It's a redundancy of what's going on and is micro-managing of what's going on," he said.

He said Mt. Ashland Association members have talked about having a participant on the technical team itself, but that issue is "up in the air right now" because of the lawsuits.

Clark said he feels that the technical team would also be redundant because ski area staff and consultants are already working on plans to protect the environment if the ski expansion proceeds.

The Mt. Ashland Association has hired Tahoe City, Calif.-based Integrated Environmental Restoration Services to work on monitoring and mitigation measures, Clark said.

The company does project planning, monitoring and oversight to control erosion and sediment runoff.

Working with universities, conservation groups and regulatory agencies, the company has pioneered new techniques for restoration of disturbed sites. It also develops and manufactures custom sediment capture devices using natural fibers and local materials, according to the Integrated Environmental Restoration Services Web site.

Clark said three test plots using different sediment control methods were established last fall on Mount Ashland.

"We've been monitoring those after winter runoff and rain," he said.

If the Mt. Ashland Association did have a member on the quality-assurance technical team, Clark said the association would want that person to be Michael Hogan, the founder and president of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services.

As for helping pay for the technical team, Clark said the Mt. Ashland Association is already paying for Hogan's services.

Despite the strained relationship between the association and city officials, Clark said Brown, the public works director, has continued to discuss expansion project issues with the association. Clark said she has reviewed plans for tree falling and storm water and sediment control.

"We've been working with Paula Brown. She's been wonderful. She's been willing to sit down with us and talk about things. It's not all one-sided. If we have thoughts and concerns, she's willing to listen," Clark said. "The city is not willing to compromise."

Bennett said the City Council wants Brown to continue communicating with the Mt. Ashland Association despite the court cases.

Brown recently announced she will leave her job with the city of Ashland in December to spend more time with her family and fulfill her duties as a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

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