Expansion date looms

As the Mt. Ashland Ski Area's June — goal to begin logging for its expansion project approaches, the City of Ashland and the Mt. Ashland Association continue to disagree about how the process will move forward.

Last week, the city forwarded a work plan to the Forest Service on behalf of MAA that states the ski resort plans to drop most trees this summer, then log wetland and stream crossings next spring and build the new lift infrastructure next summer.

Bill Little, president of MAA board of directors, said this is all that is needed for them to begin their expansion plans.

"It's our understanding the city doesn't have an approval in this process," he said. "We believe the approval will come back to us. Nothing in our contract says the city will approve anything."

But Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett, who has been the point person in negotiating with MAA, says the Forest Service decision will come to the city, as the Ashland City Council requested of the Forest Service in a September 2005 resolution.

"I disagree with that assumption," she said. "I understand why [Little] is saying what he is saying. It's a way to keep the pressure on us."

Forest Service Special Use Permit Administrator Steve Johnson said any decision from the Forest Service would go to the city, per the 2005 directive from the city, which owns the lease that allows Mt. Ashland Ski Area to operate on public land.

"The way it is set up right now, it would be the city," he said.

Furthermore, he said the work plan is just the first of the documents that must be submitted before logging can be done for the expansion project that would add 16 new ski trails, two new chair lifts and about 200 additional parking spots.

"What we've received is just a small portion of what we need before the city is granted permission to proceed," Johnson said.

In addition to the work plan, the applicant must also submit a timber settlement plan.

Once this is submitted, Johnson said a decision could take "a couple of months in this case, I'm guessing."

The work plan, which schedules most logging for this summer and lift construction the next marks a change in plans for MAA, which has said it plans to have new ski runs ready by the 2007-2008 ski season.

"Our costs go up every year," Little said. "We want to be as economical as possible and phase the work in the best way possible. We feel this is it."

Two weeks ago, MAA called off mediation efforts with the city, citing an impasse in negotiations. Before the city gives back the special use permit to MAA, it wants a detailed business plan, a quality assurance/ quality control team in place, and assurances that it has the funds in place in case the ski area folds.

"We're looking for an economical and environmentally sound project," Bennett said. "We have 20,000 residents who drink off Mount Ashland. We have to protect it."

MAA is still hoping to meet its June — self-imposed deadline to begin the project.

"Our goal is still June 1," Little said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .

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