The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals officially delayed expansion to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area on Friday afternoon when it issued a temporary injunction that will prevent the project from commencing until that court decides on the merits of a lawsuit brought forward by several environmental groups.




The environmental groups "allege irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction because the project will result in the clear-cut logging of numerous acres of trees resulting in potential harm to the Pacific fisher, harm to water quality and to wildlife," wrote the court. "Intervenor Mount Ashland Association claims an injunction will result in economic injury and harm to the public interest. We conclude that the hardship tips in favor of the appellants."




The 9th Circuit, a federal appeals court in San Francisco plans to hear the case the week of July 9.




"We anticipated this appeal could happen," Mt. Ashland officials said in a press release. "We do, however, expect to prevail in the appeals process and will proceed as quickly as possible to improve Mt. Ashland."




Kim Clark, Mt. Ashland's general manager, said Mt. A is still moving forward with the necessary permits in anticipation that the project will survive the appeal.




Tom Dimitre, executive director of the Rogue Group Sierra Club chapter, one of the plaintiffs in the case, disagrees.




"To get an injunction you have to meet a pretty high standard," he said. "You have to show you have a very good chance of winning the case. This bodes well for us."




The injunction will prevent Mt. Ashland from moving forward with its plan to build 16 new ski trails, two new chair lifts and about 200 additional parking spaces until the 9th Circuit has ruled. The Sierra Club, the Oregon Natural Resources Council and the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy brought the lawsuit because they believe new ski trails across the East Fork of Ashland Creek will cause sediment to enter into Ashland's water supply, among other issues.




Dimitre said the environmental community still supports an expansion project that does not impede upon the headwaters of Ashland's water supply.




"We stand ready and willing to discuss alternatives that would protect the environment and enhance the skiing experience at Mt. Ashland," he said.




Mt. Ashland asked the 9th Circuit Court to require the environmental groups to post a bond of about $600,000 to cover the ski resorts increased construction costs and delayed revenue. The court did not rule on that matter, instead sending it back to Judge Panner. Dimitre said it is very rare that environmental groups are asked by a court to post a bond. If they are directed to do so, it would be appealed again to the 9th circuit, he said.




Neither Dimitre or Clark had a sense of how long it would take the 9th Circuit to rule once they have heard the case. Both mentioned how long it took Judge Owen Panner to make a ruling at the local level.




"My last experience [with an ski expansion lawsuit at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals], we had a ruling in two-and-a-half months," Clark said.




Dimitre thought this was a reasonable expectation for a final ruling.




"We could get a final ruling by September," he said. "But often times it takes much longer."




If either party is unhappy with the ruling of the 9th Circuit, the only court left in the nation it could be appealed to would be the United States Supreme Court.




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