Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials said that donors are more likely to give money to pay for a proposed expansion if the city of Ashland hands over the ski area's permit to the Mt. Ashland Association.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials said that donors are more likely to give money to pay for a proposed expansion if the city of Ashland hands over the ski area's permit to the Mt. Ashland Association.

The nonprofit Mt. Ashland Association has a lease with the city government to run the ski area, which is on U.S. Forest Service land. The city of Ashland technically owns many of the assets on the mountain and holds a special use permit for the ski area.

"Some people are not as willing to donate if the Mt. Ashland Association doesn't have complete control," said Lisa Beam, treasurer for the Mt. Ashland Association board of directors.

The first and most significant phase of the expansion would cost an estimated $3.5 million and would be paid for through fundraising, ski officials said.

As early as April, the Forest Service could release a new decision about whether to allow the expansion to go forward, along with new environmental studies. The expansion was blocked after environmental groups sued to stop it.

During a Monday night study session with Mt. Ashland Association officials, Ashland City Councilors said they wanted to move forward on negotiations to transfer the ski area permit to the association.

Councilors are not allowed to make decisions during study sessions, but they can indicate which direction they are leaning.

The two sides generally agreed on some proposed terms of the permit transfer, but sticking points remained, especially about insuring there is enough money to pay for the mountain's restoration if the ski area fails and no new operator steps forward.

Mt. Ashland and city officials said they do want multiparty monitoring during expansion construction activities to make sure erosion is not a problem.

They agreed that the ongoing Ashland Forest Resiliency Project is a good model for such monitoring. The city of Ashland, the U.S. Forest Service, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to make sure that thinning to reduce wildfire risk in the Ashland Watershed doesn't cause environmental harm.

"That's a very good model. It seems to be working very well," said Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark.

The ski area is also in the watershed, which supplies Ashland with water.

Even if the city, ski area, Forest Service and a possible outside party don't team up for monitoring, Clark said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will monitor erosion issues on a daily basis during the expansion and for whatever amount of time the agency believes is necessary afterwards.

The Forest Service will also watch expansion activities on its land. It has detailed 27 restoration projects that, when complete, could mean less sediment comes off the land after the expansion than before the expansion, Mt. Ashland Association officials said.

Mt. Ashland Association board members said they would accept a city councilor being appointed to the board. The councilor could not vote, but could join in board conversations and provide input. The association could reject a councilor's appointment to the board.

How to prepare for the possible financial collapse of the Mt. Ashland Association remains an issue.

As of last year, the Forest Service required the Mt. Ashland Association to keep $313,812 available to pay for mountain restoration work if the ski area fails.

Clark said the Mt. Ashland Association would adhere to that, plus any additional amount the Forest Service wants to add to cover the expansion area.

But City Councilor Russ Silbiger said if the ski area does fail, the Forest Service would not have required enough money to cover all the impacts.

"To me, the issue of restoration and failure increases dramatically with the expansion, especially in the early years," he said.

But Councilor Greg Lemhouse said there is no evidence that the ski area's financial failure would harm the watershed.

Mt. Ashland Association officials have said an expansion will help them financially by enlarging the ski area and providing more runs for less experienced skiers and snowboarders.

Councilor David Chapman suggested that more of the ski area assets could be pledged to pay for restoration if it fails and no other operator takes over.

Mt. Ashland Association officials resisted that idea.

A 2006 appraisal put the value of city-owned ski area assets — which include the lodge, the lifts and some old equipment — at $672,700.

The city became owner of some of the assets and holder of the ski area permit because it acted as the fiscal agent for a Rogue Valley-wide effort years ago to save the ski area, which was going to be dismantled by a different operator.

The state provided a $500,000 economic development grant to preserve the ski area. Many communities donated to the effort, with 52 percent of donations coming from the Medford and White City area, Clark said.

Clark said Ashland city officials should consider transferring the ski area permit because if the ski area fails, Ashland would ultimately be responsible for restoration work.

He said the ski area does have liability insurance, but in the event of a major accident, the city of Ashland could also be sued.

"The city could very much be next in line," Clark said.

He said the ski area's annual budget is only about $2 million to $2.5 million.

The city's annual budget has ranged between about $82 million and $95 million in recent years.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.