Now that the 9th District has issued its unanimous ruling against the Mt. Ashland Ski Area's plans to expand, an smoky quiet hangs over the mountain. This battle is decisively over. Environmentalists have effectively routed the expansionists, driving them from the field.




The carnage is now obscured by the confusion that inevitably obscures judgment in the blistering heat of a win-at-all-costs campaign. But make no mistake, the reality of this fight has only begun to settle in.




"Carnage" too strong? Not really. The issue has been the single most divisive topic for years in Ashland, dividing the city council, pitting neighbor against neighbor and costing taxpayers and donor alike substantial amounts of money to continue the battle. One group of community leaders wrote Ashland City Council a couple of months ago, calling the Mt. Ashland expansion a civil war that threatened to undermine the entire city.




As news of the ruling broke Monday, seemingly only one question dominated: Is this it?




Only Mt. Ashland Association officials can answer that all-important question. They must decide if this is little more than a battlefield defeat in a seemingly endless 20-year war, or if in fact a truce at hand.




As unlikely as it seems in light of the years of bad blood around this issue, it is possible for those most passionately and emotionally involved seek a lasting peace.




Certainly nothing in the drawn-out history of this saga suggests such a possibility. Had this decision gone the other way, anti-expansionists would not have simply packed away their lawsuits and given up. We know other lawsuits were already planned, not to mention the near certainty of protests designed to block the construction project on the mountain itself.




Perhaps the notion is just whistling in the windy chill blowing off the mountain these days, but the idea of a legitimate truce, and compromise, is not entirely impossible to fathom. If the owners of the mountain were simply a corporation hell-bent on profits at all costs, then they'd have no motivation to end the fight. But the people of this Valley are the true owners. The mountain is a community gift, a non-profit organization designed to contribute to the region both economically and recreationally. While Mt. Ashland Association believed the proposed expansion to be the best plan to accomplish both, it doesn't have to be the only plan.




For the good of the community and for the future of a ski area that has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting this expansion, the leaders of the ski area could simply accept a less than perfect solution, but one that can gain the support of the entire community.




Unlikely to be sure, but anything else simply means a return to the battlefield in the future, or perhaps worse, an end to the ski area altogether. This jewel of our community needs to be protected, and perhaps now we can find a new way around this impasse.