Judge says turn it over

A Jackson County Circuit Court judge sided with the City of Ashland's request that the Mt. Ashland Association must provide a detailed business plan for future expansion of the non-profit ski area.

Judge Mark Schiveley ruled in December that Mt. Ashland must provide the city with its detailed business plan for the proposed expansion of the ski area.

"All parties recognize the sensitive nature of the documents requested," he said, adding that a confidentiality agreement must be entered between the parties before the information is released.

That news disappointed some outside parties, including the Ashland Daily Tidings, which had hoped to get financial details about the expansion's viability. The Tidings is weighing whether it can legally seek to have the document released.

The association filed suit in Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford against the city last July, saying the city breached its contract by sending a letter last October requiring the U.S. Forest Service to deal directly with the city, and not MAA.

The lawsuit contends the city's actions blocked MAA's ability to move forward with its expansion plans when it sent the letter.

Kim Clark, general manager of Mt. Ashland, said the association hasn't been able to secure a timber sale contract because of the letter.

But Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas said an injunction from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is holding up the project, not the city.

Local environmental groups, most notably the Rogue Valley Sierra Club, oppose the expansion and have sought to block it in court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction last May that prevents the ski resort from moving forward with its expansion plans. But Clark said Mt. Ashland would still like to prepare a timber sale contract with a private contractor, in case the injunction is lifted.

The city's position

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett said the city requested the business plan for two reasons. The first is to ensure that the ski area would remain financially solvent if it went forward with its expansion plans to add a new lodge and several intermediate and beginner runs in the Ashland Watershed.

City Councilor Eric Navickas said the city is concerned about the financial viability of the plan because of a Special Use Permit condition the city has with U.S. Forest Service, which requires the city to pay for restoring the mountain to its natural condition if the ski resort fails.

The second reason for requesting the documents is for the city to defend itself against the MAA's lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court, said Bennett.

"They are claiming that the city is delaying their expansion plans and that we've cost them money," she said. "We consider those documents as evidence that will either support or refute their claims."

Clark contends that the MAA tried to comply with the city by submitting a short business plan.

"We sent the city a business plan last August, but they weren't happy with the details," said Clark. "We felt a detailed plan was proprietary and wouldn't agree to hand it over until we received a confidentiality agreement."

The agreement will assure that only key city personnel and the city's attorneys see the business plan, said Clark.

He added that the confidentiality agreement will also protect donors' names. "Like most non-profits, many donors want their identities protected. That was a big concern of ours, which is another reason the confidentiality agreement was important to us," Clark said.

Bennett said that as soon as the attorneys draw up the agreement, the city will sign it.

The city also requested all correspondence between members of the association's board of directors since Sept. 1, 2005.

The judge ruled that the request was overly broad and potentially burdensome, and limited the correspondence to the president of the board.

The judge said the city's demand for "all notes, memorandums and e-mails" regarding the association's relationship or interaction with the city needed to be limited to people who have authority to deal with the city, such as board president Bill Little, general manager Clark and marketing director Rick Saul.

The MAA held a fundraising campaign with a goal to bring in $1 million by Dec. 31, 2007 to help cover operating and expansion expenses. They received half that amount, but have continued raising money in 2008.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .

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