The Ashland City Council decided not to give the Mt. Ashland Association permission to take a first step in a ski area expansion timber sale process.




The Mt. Ashland Association, which runs the Mt. Ashland Ski Snowboard Resort, had wanted its name listed as the purchaser of a U.S. Forest Service timber sale on the mountain. Trees would be cut to make way for the expansion.




But on Tuesday night, the City Council voted 3-3 to send a letter to the Forest Service authorizing the Mt. Ashland Association to be listed as the purchaser.




Because the vote was a tie, the motion to send the letter died and the letter will not be sent.




Mayor John Morrison, who votes in case of a tie, was absent from council meeting.




Councilor Kate Jackson, along with Councilors Russ Silbiger and David Chapman, wanted to send the letter.




"If we delay a settlement sale, we will have breached the lease and will be in court. ... This is a step we need to take legally to reduce our spending on lawyers and keep the discussions going," Jackson said.




The city of Ashland has a lease with the Mt. Ashland Association for the nonprofit group to run the ski area.




In October 2006, the City Council sent the Forest Service a letter stating it wants the Forest Service to deal directly with the city on timber sale issues.




That took control over timber sale issues away from the Mt. Ashland Association.




Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark said this week that he can't comment about whether the City Council's continued efforts to block the timber sale will cause the Mt. Ashland Association to sue.




"It means, at this point, it continues to delay us in preparing to be ready," he said. "I'm limited in what I can and can't comment on."




Councilor Eric Navickas voted with Councilors Cate Hartzell and Alice Hardesty not to send the letter authorizing the Mt. Ashland Association to be listed as the timber sale purchaser.




He said the city of Ashland needs protections in place before any trees are felled.




In 2005, the City Council asked the Mt. Ashland Association to provide a detailed business plan about the expansion and to cooperate in the formation of a team to oversee expansion activities to safeguard the Ashland watershed. The council also remains concerned that a restoration sum of $200,000 is inadequate to restore the mountain if the ski area fails.




"We have made requests of Mt. Ashland that are really basic requests," Navickas said, noting that the city ultimately is financially liable in the event of a ski area failure.




Mediation talks about those issues broke down. The Mt.




Ashland Association has provided the city with a short business plan outline.




Forest Service Recreation Specialist Steve Johnson said the Forest Service requires the ski area to maintain $200,000 in readily available assets or a bond. If a timber sale is issued to the Mt. Ashland Association, the Forest Service would require a bond of about $100,000, he said.




Clark said it is up to the Forest Service to set a restoration value, and the Mt. Ashland Association will abide by whatever that agency decides.




Regardless of City Council efforts, the ski area expansion is currently being halted by an injunction from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court issued a preliminary injunction to stop the expansion after environmental groups appealed a lower court's approval of the expansion.




On July 11, the court could lift the injunction or keep it in place as the appeals process continues.




Johnson said a decision about the case will likely not come for weeks or months following July's court hearing.




He said the Mt. Ashland Association is trying to be prepared to start expansion activities if the court lifts the injunction. In addition to completion of the timber sale contract process, the association needs to have erosion control and storm drain management plans in place, among other steps.




Clark said the association is continuing work to be ready to start the expansion in July.




Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.