Mt. A expansion report due this month

The U.S. Forest Service is likely to release a new analysis of the proposed Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion at the end of the month, said Steve Johnson, Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District recreation specialist.

Environmental groups sued to stop the expansion, which was halted by a court injunction in September 2007.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals raised concerns about landslide hazard zones on the mountain and possible impacts to the Pacific fisher, a weasel-like animal.

A coming draft supplemental environmental impact statement will address issues raised by the court, Johnson said. A 45-day public comment period will follow the release of that document, he said.

The document was delayed as the Forest Service focused its efforts on wildfire issues, Forest Service officials previously said.

"We're very pleased that things are continuing to move along," said Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark. "Like everyone else, we're anxiously waiting to see the draft and read it ourselves."

Meanwhile, the Mt. Ashland Ski Area tapped a line of credit it has with a bank in order to launch this winter's ski season, Clark confirmed.

The ski area lost money last year because of poor snow levels and the troubled economy, he said.

"We opted to utilize the line of credit instead of drawing a few other accounts down to zero. We paid it back by the second week of January. We currently owe nothing," Clark said.

He declined to disclose the amount the Mt. Ashland Ski Area had borrowed.

"This season, revenue is up. We are operating in the black. We have the best snow in the entire state," he said.

Some residents and environmental groups have questioned whether the Mt. Ashland Ski Area can afford to expand.

The first and major phase of the expansion would include building new ski runs, another chairlift, additional parking spots and a mountain-top warming hut and bathrooms. That phase would cost $4 million, Clark said.

Projects in subsequent phases, such as a snow tubing facility, would be built only if the ski area had enough money, he said.

Clark said the ski area would not go into debt to finance the expansion. Instead, the ski area would have a fundraiser and use cash from operations.

The ski area already has spent substantial sums on expansion planning.

"We won't build unless we have the money. We have $2.5 million into this. To flush that down the drain because we're scared would be a bad business move," he said.

In 2007, the Mt. Ashland Association, the nonprofit group that manages the ski area on Forest Service land, held a $1 million fundraising campaign that brought in about $530,000, Clark said.

The money was needed to cover operating losses, replace aging equipment and continue work on expansion preparation, Mt. Ashland Association members said in 2007.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas, who has long opposed the expansion but was not part of the environmental groups' lawsuit to block it, said the expansion would be risky given the ski area's finances and the troubled economy.

He said the ski area should focus on improving its existing infrastructure.

The ski area is located at the top of the Ashland municipal watershed. Navickas said the expansion would intrude into a sensitive area of the watershed and would increase erosion, thereby harming the city's water supply.

Mt. Ashland officials have said their expansion plan was done with the help of environmental consultants and minimizes impacts.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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