Our Opinion: No joy on the slopes

An appeals court decision to lift an injunction blocking the planned expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area should be cause for celebration, but no one is popping any champagne. The expansion is two to three years away at best — and that's if opponents stop filing court challenges, which they have shown no inclination to do.

The Mt. Ashland Association is coming off the only winter in the ski area's history when it was unable to open for lack of snow. The financial hit from the season that wasn't, coupled with tens of thousands in court costs spent fighting lawsuits against the expansion plans, have left the nonprofit organization on life support.

MAA board secretary Alan DeBoer says no expansion work will take place for at least two to three years, and not without a major capital fundraising campaign. An agreement hammered out with the city of Ashland means the ski area must have all the money in the bank before beginning expansion work.

The first phase of the expansion, estimated to cost $3.5 million, would cut 70 acres of trees to create new intermediate ski runs, a feature the ski area lacks. That plan has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups who argue it would threaten the watershed that supplies Ashland's drinking water.

Ski area officials have been trying to move ahead with the expansion for more than two decades, only to face new court challenges at every turn. When the courts eventually rule in the ski area's favor — which they have consistently done — the opponents appeal, drawing out the delay even further.

It was one such appeal that was decided in the ski area's favor last week, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that had blocked the expansion. But another lawsuit is also awaiting a ruling from the appeals court after expansion opponents lost at the District Court level.

All along, the Forest Service, which manages the land on which the ski area sits and has performed the environmental reviews of the expansion, has maintained the proposal does not threaten the catastrophic consequences the opponents claim will result. And the lawsuits keep coming.

Anyone who believed those opponents who insisted they did not oppose the ski area's continued existence may be forgiven for now disregarding any such statements. One opponent, former Ashland City Council member Eric Navickas, reacted to last week's lifting of the injunction by warning that no one who opposes the expansion should donate money to the ski area because it will continue to incur litigation costs as it pursues the expansion.

The ski area will continue to incur litigation costs as long as opponents continue to litigate. The ski area has made the case that expansion is necessary for its long-term survival in a competitive market.

Individuals will make their own decisions about supporting the ski area financially. But no one who supports the endless series of lawsuits and appeals should pretend they want to see the ski area survive.

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