City of Ashland will give up ski area permit

The Mt. Ashland Association has agreed to conditions set by the Ashland City Council in return for the city giving up the Mt. Ashland Ski Area permit.

The association, which operates the ski area, will now apply to the U.S. Forest Service to become the new permit holder.

During the day on Monday, the nonprofit association's board of directors met and agreed to accept the conditions that were hammered out by City Council members during a series of previous council meetings, board member Tom Mayer announced at the association's annual meeting held Monday night in Phoenix.

Having the permit in hand could help the Mt. Ashland Association as it raises funds for a planned ski area expansion.

Many Ashland residents spoke out against the city of Ashland relinquishing the permit at previous council meetings.

Counter-intuitively, the Ashland City Council has gained greater control over how the expansion is carried out by giving up the permit and dissolving its existing lease of the ski area to the association. A lease agreement the city of Ashland had with the association prohibited city officials from interfering with ski area operations.

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

The Mt. Ashland Association has agreed with a City Council condition that the association must have cash contributions, binding financial commitments and performance bonding to cover the costs of the first and most significant phase of the expansion.

The first phase will cost an estimated $2.5 million to $3.5 million and includes ski runs, a chairlift, parking spaces and environmental projects.

Council members were concerned that the association would log trees to clear ski runs, but then not have enough money to carry out the expansion.

Both sides agreed that the city of Ashland can have a city inspector on site to monitor a planned expansion if it moves forward.

If environmental problems are identified, the city and the Mt. Ashland Association will confer with the Forest Service and regulatory agencies such as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The association and the City Council agreed that the Forest Service will set the amount of assets that the association must have on hand to restore the mountain should the ski area fail financially.

Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger Donna Mickley previously told the council that the amount would probably be less than the $700,000 figure favored by some concerned council members, but that it would probably be higher than the $200,000 set by the permit.

The issue of the restoration sum was one of the last sticking points in negotiations between the council and the association.

The Mt. Ashland Association also agreed that no new sediment from the expansion will flow into the city's Reeder Reservoir above amounts that already flow in.

The council will be able to appoint a council liaison to the association's board of directors, although that council member will not have a vote on the board.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark said on Monday night that he planned to deliver information about the association's agreement with City Council terms to Ashland City Hall today or Wednesday.

Mickley said on Monday night that it would probably take until the beginning of 2012 for the Forest Service to review the association's application to become the new permit holder and decide whether to grant it the permit.

The Forest Service's review will include a determination of whether the association is financially capable of carrying out the expansion, she said.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service has approved the expansion but must return to U.S. District Court in Medford to ask for an injunction to be lifted that has blocked the expansion from moving forward.

The Forest Service may return to court in November or December, Mickley estimated.

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