The Ashland City Council voted last Wednesday to send City Administrator Martha Bennett to try to restart talks with the Mt. Ashland Association.




The city has already spent $52,000 on a failed mediation effort and outside legal advice. The City Council has authorized spending another $50,000 to defend the city against an association lawsuit.




The vote to renegotiate is prudent particularly if lawsuits against the expansion are effective in derailing the project. MAA officials could try to seek damages against the city, something $50,000 won't come close to covering.




Not to mention that a compromise is still possible, should anyone be genuinely so inclined to seek one.




The City Council wants three things: a quality assurance technical team of forest, water and soil experts to oversee ski area expansion activities, assurances that the association has enough assets to restore the mountain if the ski area fails and a detailed business plan.




A City Council majority has never voted against the expansion itself, but only for the above safeguards, none of which is unreasonable.




Public Works Director Paula Brown, who proposed formation of the technical team, is in a position to judge whether the association's consultant, Integrated Environmental Restoration Services, can put measures in place to control erosion and sediment run-off in the municipal watershed.




If Brown thinks the firm can perform the same tasks as a technical team, the City Council should drop that request. If not, Brown could offer an expert's position, not a political one, to negotiate with MAA.




The City Council should also give the city's Special Use Permit for the ski area to the association, which has asked for the permit. That would absolve the city of Ashland &

and taxpayers &

of the ultimate responsibility to restore the mountain if the ski area fails and the association lacks sufficient assets.




At the same time, the City Council should ask the U.S. Forest Service to increase its restoration cost estimate if the expansion proceeds. The association has said it will comply with forest service directives.




For its part, the MAA should publicly release a detailed business plan for the ski area expansion. If the expansion is not financially viable, the fundraising campaign will fail and the association will not have money to proceed. If the expansion makes financial sense, that should bolster the fundraising campaign.




With those three issues out of the way, the city can allow the final decision to play itself out in court, while limiting both expense and risk.




Whether the expansion complies with federal environmental laws is an issue for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide, which will most likely determine the eventual fate of this project.