City wants oversight of Mount Ashland ski area expansion

Mount Ashland ski area representatives said Tuesday they welcome monitoring by the city of Ashland to make sure a proposed ski area expansion does not send sediment into Reeder Reservoir, the source of the city's drinking water.

"We've always welcomed monitoring and city oversight over this project," said Darrel Jarvis, an Ashland resident and member of the Mount Ashland Association board of directors.

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted 5-1 to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service asking the agency to allow city representatives to review and comment on storm water system design, grading, clearing, revegetation plans, erosion control plans, watershed restoration projects and other aspects of the expansion.

The letter also asks for creation of a coordinating committee with representatives from the city, the U.S. Forest Service and the Mount Ashland Association. City representatives also would like to visit the ski area during and after the expansion.

The nonprofit association operates the ski area under a lease agreement with the city, which holds the special use permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service to operate the ski area, which lies on land managed by the Forest Service. The city assumed the permit as a way to secure state economic development money when local people raised money to buy the ski area from Harbor Properties in 1992.

Jarvis said a Forest Service analysis of the expansion showed no additional sediment would flow into Reeder Reservoir.

Diane McKelvey, another member of the association board, said 25 watershed restoration projects are planned to go along with the expansion. She said the association has already started several of those projects.

Alan DeBoer, a former member of the association board and a former Ashland mayor, said the ski area is a valuable economic driver, especially during winter when tourism slows. He said the ski area would incur no debt to expand. Instead, the expansion would be funded through donations.

"We need to move on this," he said. "This is a great thing for the city."

The first phase of the expansion would include building new ski trails and a new chairlift, along with additional parking space and a mountain-top warming hut and bathrooms. Estimates for that phase put the cost at $4 million. Subsequent improvements, such as a snow tubing site, would be built only if the ski area has enough money, ski area officials have said.

Tom Dimitre, of the Rogue Group, Sierra Club, said the expansion involves clearcutting and intrusions into riparian areas. He said the cost of the expansion makes it too risky, and the community could be left with partially cleared slopes if the ski area runs out of money.

The city of Ashland's letter to the Forest Service asks the Forest Service to state the amount of a bond the Mount Ashland Association would have to post to cover the costs of mountain restoration if the ski area fails financially.

In 1992, that bond amount was listed at $200,000.

The letter asks the Forest Service to require the association to post the new bond amount before or at the time the Forest Service authorizes the expansion.

The council voted to remove language from a draft version of the letter that would have asked the Forest Service to consider potential impacts on the expansion from the current economic recession.

Voting with the majority, Councilman Russ Silbiger said asking the Forest Service to update the restoration bond amount is sufficient.

"That is what gives us protection from liability," he said.

Councilman Eric Navickas said times have changed since the Forest Service did an economic analysis of expansion alternatives in 2004.

"It's irresponsible not to ask for updated economic data," he said.

A majority of councilors also voted against asking the Forest Service to consider global warming's possible impacts on the ski area. The expansion would occur west and downhill of the existing ski area, putting some new ski trails at lower elevations where there could be less snow.

The letter from the city is being sent as the Forest Service collects public comments until May 10 on its supplemental environmental review of the proposed expansion. A federal appeals court ruled in 2007 that the original study was inadequate. The ski area's expansion plan has been challenged since it was first proposed in 1998.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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