Council to review ski area permit

The Ashland City Council will hold a study session about whether to transfer the city's permit for the Mt. Ashland Ski Area to the Mt. Ashland Association, the nonprofit group that runs the ski area.

The study session begins at 5:30 tonight in the Siskiyou Room of the Community Development Building, 51 Winburn Way. Study sessions are open to the public, although members of the public usually are not allowed to speak. Council members can't vote during study sessions, but they can give directions to city staff about how to move forward on issues.

Last fall, Kim Clark, the ski area's general manager, and Alan DeBoer, a past member of the Mt. Ashland Association Board of Directors and a former Ashland mayor, requested that the council consider transferring the ski area permit to the association.

Clark and City Administrator Martha Bennett have been in negotiations since then.

Some people believe that holding onto the permit, or at least attaching conditions to its transfer, is the only way for the city of Ashland to exert any control over a proposed ski area expansion in the municipal watershed.

However, city officials learned a costly lesson about the limits of their control after the ski area sued the city government in 2007 for attempting to interfere with expansion plans. The city lost and had to pay the Mt. Ashland Association $85,000 to cover part of the nonprofit's legal expenses. The City Council also had to authorize spending up to $225,000 to cover city spending on outside lawyers.

In recent negotiations, Clark and Bennett have discussed three potential conditions for the city to transfer the permit to the Mt. Ashland Association: city or multi-party monitoring of the expansion, Mt. Ashland setting aside about $300,000 to cover restoration of the ski area if it fails financially, and having a city council member serve as a nonvoting member of the association board.

The ski area expansion has been on hold after environmental groups sued to stop it. U.S. Forest Service officials predict additional analysis of possible environmental impacts will be released, along with a decision on whether to let the expansion move forward, as early as April. The ski area is on Forest Service land. The federal agency would have to approve the permit transfer.

For more details on the study session, including aspects of the potential transfer terms, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=13860.

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