Mixed feelings aired at ski area meeting

CENTRAL POINT — Concerns about the viability of the Mount Ashland ski area's proposed expansion and anger over plans to close the area on Mondays and Tuesdays were two recurring themes Monday when the ski area's board of directors opened their meeting to public comment.

Ron Roth of Ashland, a former member of the board of directors, chastised the board for continuing to pursue the expansion in a wetland area despite issues raised by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it blocked the project.

"Intrusion into the wetland is a big deal," Roth said, questioning the board's report that revisions to the project's environmental review would be completed within six to 12 months. He predicted delays could postpone the project for three or four years, and in the end regulations designed to protect water quality could scuttle it.

Jim Steitz of Ashland asked the board to consider the "moral proposition" of whether it's appropriate to cut trees to satisfy "what is a want rather than a need, to take these things and destroy them because we want more flat terrain."

Others questioned whether the board understands the depth of opposition to the project among some members of the community.

"It doesn't feel like the board represents the number of people opposed to the expansion," said Derek Volkart of Ashland.

About two dozen people, along with the board and staff members, attended the board meeting at the LTM offices in Central Point. Several spoke of their displeasure with the board's decision to close the ski area this season on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturday nights.

Chris Garvey of Ashland presented a petition he said had 300 signatures requesting the ski area to reconsider the closures, and to "consider the community it's supposed to be a member of when making these decisions."

Garvey said the closure "smacks of a lack of creativity." He noted that many people who visit the mountain work service jobs that give them Mondays and Tuesdays off. "Those are their days to ski," he said.

Dropping Mondays and Tuesdays is "a slap in the face to many skiers," said Steve Drabik of Phoenix. He said the board's decision reinforces a growing sentiment among some people that ski area managers "don't really care about us."

"It's really fostered a lot of ill will," said Drabik, a 16-year veteran of the ski patrol.

Kim Clark, Mount Ashland's general manager, said the ski area has lost, on average, $158,000 each of the past five years during Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturday nights, when there aren't enough skiers and snowboarders on the mountain to cover the costs of operations.

Joan Thorndike, a member of the board, said that unlike many ski areas, Mount Ashland has no real estate to sell or develop to generate income, and must make operating decisions based on its limited income. She said the closure was "a very hard decision for us to make."

"It just doesn't make sense for us to operate those days we are losing money," said Shelley Austin, one of the two new board members who was seated Monday, along with Frank Rote of Medford.

Four members of the board stepped down at the meeting as their terms expired: Kurt Austermann, Doug McGeary, Blair Moody, and Greg Williams.

Officers for the coming year will be: Bill Little, president; Bob Meyers, vice president; Sam James, treasurer; and Joan Thorndike, secretary.

Little said many people in the community still don't understand how the ski area came to be publicly owned, or its association with the city of Ashland.

He said that a public fundraising campaign in 1992 collected money to buy the ski area from its former owners, and the city of Ashland accepted the donations because there was no other entity in existence to perform that role. The U.S. Forest Service gave the special use permit to operate the ski area to the city, which in turn signed a 25-year lease with the Mt. Ashland Association when it was formed a year later as a nonprofit charitable organization.

The city and the ski area have been unable to reach agreement over details of the expansion proposal, and the city has directed the Forest Service to talk directly with city officials on expansion matters rather than ski area managers.

The ski area has sued the city, claiming the lease gives it complete responsibility for all aspects of expansion and improvement.

Roth, the former board member, described the association's decision to sue the city as "mind-boggling."

"I would strongly recommend the board drop the lawsuit against the city of Ashland," he said. "I feel there have been some poor decisions made and I'm not alone."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com

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