Expansion effort will continue

After meeting with U.S. Forest Service officials to discuss the ramifications of a court decision against the Mt. Ashland Ski area expansion project, Mt. Ashland Association officials announced this morning they intend to continue on the same course.

"At this point we don't anticipate any substantial changes to our plans," said Bill Little, president of the Mt. Ashland Association board of directors. "We expect to move forward with the Forest Service to address the issues identified in the court ruling, and believe we will be able to implement the needed improvements to the ski area in the near future."

Little and Kim Clark, the general manager of the ski area, met with Scott Conroy, the supervisor of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and Linda Duffy, the Siskiyou Mountain district ranger, on Thursday. They left that meeting feeling confident their plans for expansion remain viable.

"The Forest Service estimates a period of six to 12 months is all that will be needed to complete the further evaluation," Little said, in a prepared statement this morning.

On Monday, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the expansion plan violates federal law because steep riparian areas were misclassified and the Pacific fisher, a rare carnivorous mammal that travels through the expansion area, wasn't properly studied.

After the decision was announced, Marianne Dugan, attorney for the three environmental groups that won the appeal, said she saw no way for the expansion project to move forward because sensitive hillsides can't be moved.

But on Thursday, Clark outlined a way in which the ski area may be able to stick with its current plans and still abide by the court's decision.

A proposed chair lift that would travel through the steep areas of the expansion project identified by the appeals court could be built without causing increased run-off and sedimentation by adding extra support towers in areas away from the sensitive soils, he said. He added that taking out trees could be deemed by the Forest Service as not intrusive because the logs would be removed by helicopter.

"The mitigation might be to put in a few extra towers," he said. "The actual tower placement cannot be determined until the trees are down."

Any additional studies and information would be subject to public scrutiny, Little said this morning.

Since 1998, the Mt. Ashland Association has been working on an expansion project that would add 16 ski trails, two chair lifts and about 200 parking spaces to the ski area. The expansion would also clear about 70 acres of trees in the headwaters of Ashland's municipal water supply.

To date, MAA has invested $1.4 million dollars in its expansion project. Clark said the majority of this money has been for the public comment process that will have to be amended because of the recent court ruling.

Ski area officials have said the project is essential to its financial viability, while environmentalists said it will have adverse effects on Ashland's drinking water.

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