Supporting Mt. Ashland, but not expansion into the middle branch

The Rogue Group Sierra Club supports the existence of the Mt. Ashland ski area.

Our executive committee voted on the issue years ago and continues to voice its unwavering support.

Our disagreement with the ski area is not about its existence, but only about expansion into the middle branch of the east fork of Ashland Creek.

We believe that expansion into the middle branch is ill advised, environmentally disastrous, unaffordable and illegal.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had this to say about building ski runs over areas prone to landslides (the Northwest Forest Plan classifies unstable areas as "riparian reserves"): "You can't use riparian land as part of the project can you? If the law is not a prohibition, what is the effect?"

We have stated on numerous occasions that we support changes or additions to the ski area that are not within the middle branch, can be done without environmental damage, are affordable, can pass muster with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, can be done quickly and will not impair the city's municipal watershed.

We have continually requested that the Mt. Ashland Association Board look to alternatives that are not within the middle branch and that can be built fairly quickly and inexpensively and without opposition from the community or Sierra Club.

We are continuing in our attempt to hold a dialogue with the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors regarding a compromise.

The proposed expansion will cost an estimated $17 million. The first phase, alone, is estimated at $4 million to $5 million.

The Mt. Ashland ski area is in a financial crisis that threatens to bankrupt it.

This year's financial report showed a large drop in the number of skiers, a loss of about $325,000 and current cash and cash equivalents of $516 versus $145,000 last year. Total current assets dropped from $282,000 in 2008 to $68,000 in 2009. This is not a ski area that should be advocating for an expensive expansion into the middle branch, not only for environmental reasons, but for financial reasons.

To see Mt. Ashland's most recent financial report, go to this city site: Scroll to page 8 and 9.

We support a small, local, niche ski area that caters to the locals and tourists. We do not support an environmentally damaging and erosion-causing expansion into the pristine middle branch. We do support a modest, non-middle-branch expansion that is affordable and can be quickly constructed.

We've offered our support to help see that these types of improvements are built and to help bring the community back together. We think that is the way to increase visitation, to coalesce support for the ski area and to ensure the ski area's financial stability.

We hope that the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors will accept our invitation to sit down and talk until we reach an agreement to move a modest expansion forward.

Tom Dimitre is the chair of the Rogue Group Sierra Club and the 2009 winner of the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club's Charles Funk award in recognition of his volunteer activities with the Sierra Club, including the Rogue Group's continuing work in protecting the middle branch of the east fork of Ashland Creek from the proposed Mt. Ashland ski area expansion.

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