Enough, already

The U.S. Forest Service's decision to approve — again — the proposed Mount Ashland ski area expansion is no surprise. The expansion made sense when it was first proposed and it still does.

Unfortunately, opponents of the expansion refuse to let go of their determination to stop the project even though all of their objections have been answered. Rogue Group Sierra Club Chairman Tom Dimitre says his organization will go to court — again — if the Forest Service has not made changes to address issues of concern.

The ski area expansion was first approved 20 years ago. Since then, it has been studied, adjusted and litigated again and again.

The Sierra Club and two other environmental groups sued in 2005 to block the project, arguing it would damage Ashland's water supply and harm wildlife. A U.S. District judge rejected that suit, and the groups took it to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found in the opponents' favor.

District Judge Owen Panner then ordered the Forest Service to do more analysis of potential environmental effects of the expansion plan. That analysis is now complete, and the Forest Service has once again approved the project.

It has been clear since the original environmental impact statement issued in 2004 that the project will actually improve water quality in the Ashland watershed, not harm it. Further Forest Service review made clear last year that the expansion poses no threat to the Pacific fisher, a weasel-like mammal. Logging needed to clear new ski runs would amount to less than two-tenths of 1 percent of one male fisher's range, and Mount Ashland sits at the northern extreme of a population of 1,000 to 2,000 animals.

The Mt. Ashland Association, the nonprofit group that operates the ski area for the Southern Oregon community, has made the case that the ski area needs more terrain suitable for beginning and intermediate skiers, and without it cannot continue to compete with larger ski areas in the region.

The opponents have cost the association hundreds of thousands of dollars in delays and legal fees, and their litigation has effectively prevented the association from raising money to pay for the expansion by casting doubt on its viability.

The court ordered further study. That has been done. The only thing to be gained by more legal challenges is to damage the long-term viability of the Mt. Ashland ski area and, ultimately, threaten its very existence.

Dimitre and other opponents have insisted repeatedly during this excruciating process that they are not anti-skiing, and they want the ski area to succeed. They should prove that now, acknowledge that their concerns have been addressed, declare victory and get out of the way.

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