The day after the Mt. Ashland Association defended itself against an environmental lawsuit in a federal appeals court in Portland, the ski area filed a suit of its own against the City of Ashland.




In the most recent lawsuit relating to plans to add new ski runs and lifts at Mt. Ashland in the Ashland Watershed, the ski area contends that the city is blocking its ability to move forward with its project.




"We feel we are at an impasse," said Kim Clark, general manager of Mt. Ashland. "With the letter last October, the city breached the contract we have with them. We can no longer deal directly with the forest service."




Clark said the city violated the contract Mt. Ashland has with the city when it sent a letter to the Rogue River-Siskiyou branch of the U.S. Forest Service in October asking the forest service to deal directly with the city.




Although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued in May a temporary injunction that prevents the ski resort from moving forward with its expansion plans, Clark said Mt. Ashland would still like to prepare its timber sale contract with a private contractor, in case the injunction is lifted.




"It's a block because we can't hire a contractor," he said. "We can't get a copy of the timber settlement contract. Contractors don't know what they are bidding on."




On June 19, the council voted 3-3 to send a letter to the forest service authorizing Mt. Ashland to deal with the forest service about the timber contract. The motion died because it was a tie. Mayor John Morrison, who votes in case of a tie, was absent from that meeting.




Then on June 27, the council voted unanimously to send a different letter to the forest service asserting it will eventually allow Mt. Ashland to deal with the forest service.




Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas said it is the federal appeals court's injunction, not the city's, that is holding up the project at this point. Navickas is also a co-defendant in the lawsuit that was heard by the ninth circuit on Wednesday.




"As long as the injunction is in place, they can't prove we have obstructed them in fact," he said. "Therefore the case is not ripe for review, and I expect the court will dismiss it on those grounds. They have every right to work with a subcontractor [for the timber contract] at this point, they just can't sign a contract."




However, showing the political division on the council regarding the expansion project, City Councilor Kate Jackson said after the June 19 motion that delaying the ski areas plans could put the city in legal jeopardy.




"If we delay a settlement sale, we will have breached the lease and will be in court," Jackson said at the time.




Clark, who attended Wednesday's appeal in Portland, brought the lawsuit filing back to the Rogue Valley from their Portland attorney's office. He said there was no relationship between the suit filed against the city and the hearing in Portland, after which environmentalists thought the court was sympathetic to their concerns.




"None whatsoever," Clark said.




Tom Dimitre, director of the Rogue Valley chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the plaintiffs in the case heard on Wednesday, hopes Mt. Ashland will decide to negotiate a compromise with environmentalists.




"Circuit Judges at the hearing in Portland this week continually peppered the Forest Service and Mt. Ashland attorneys with tough questions about the proposed project," he said. "Questions included comments hinting that the Court could very well rule that Alternative 2 is illegal. Instead of blaming the City and others for holding up the proposed ski expansion, the MAA should read the writing on the wall and come to the table, as the Sierra Club and other plaintiffs have consistently offered."




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