The City Council won't appeal a judge's ruling that it interfered with Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion plans, and will instead pay $85,000 to the nonprofit Mt. Ashland Association.
On Tuesday night, a council majority voted to not appeal Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley's October ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Mt. Ashland Association against the city.
The council also voted to pay the Mt. Ashland Association $85,000 to cover part of the association's legal costs on the case. The Mt. Ashland Association had originally sought $109,369 from the city.
On Tuesday afternoon, the association had made a settlement offer to the city that the city pay $85,000 and agree not to appeal.
Mt. Ashland Association General Manager Kim Clark said he was pleased by the council's vote Tuesday night to agree to the settlement offer.
"I think it was a wise decision and we're very pleased with it," he said.
The council also voted to authorize spending up to $225,000 to cover the city's spending on outside legal help to fight the lawsuit.
The total legal tab for the city could reach $310,000.
But if the city had appealed the judge's ruling and lost before the Oregon Court of Appeals, it could have faced paying city and Mt. Ashland Association legal fees of more than $410,000.
Mayor John Morrison said it wouldn't be prudent to risk more public money on an appeal. He didn't run for re-election in November and will soon leave office, but he urged city officials to develop a more collaborative relationship with the Mt. Ashland Association.
"We need a lot more energy put into building bridges," he said.
Councilor David Chapman was among those who voted not to appeal and to pay the association $85,000.
If the city had pursued the appeal and won, it could have recovered part of its attorneys' fees from the Mt. Ashland Association.
But Chapman said pursuing the appeal would have been a lose-lose proposition for both the city and association.
"It's just not worth it to the community," he said.
Councilor Eric Navickas, a long-time ski area expansion opponent, argued that the council should have voted to appeal because he believed the city had a good chance of winning the appeal.
"We can win back those attorneys' fees and win back those costs that the taxpayers shouldn't have to bear," he said before the vote.
Navickas was the only councilor to vote against accepting the settlement terms to not appeal.
The battle between the City Council and the Mt. Ashland Association began in 2006, when the council voted to instruct the U.S. Forest Service to deal only with the city regarding a timber sale related to the proposed ski area expansion. The ski area is on Forest Service land high in the Ashland Watershed, source of the city's drinking water.
The city wanted the Mt. Ashland Association to submit a detailed business plan and allow a team of experts to monitor expansion activities to prevent erosion.
The Mt. Ashland Association, which manages the ski area, sued the city in July 2007 in Jackson County Circuit Court, alleging the city had interfered with the expansion.
The ski area expansion was halted even without the City Council's involvement in the issue.
Environmental groups filed a different lawsuit against the expansion, which was blocked by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in September 2007 that the Forest Service had not adequately analyzed environmental impacts of the expansion.
The Forest Service is conducting more analysis.
In other business Tuesday night, the City Council:
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.