Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Minutes
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

MINUTES FOR THE STUDY SESSION
ASHLAND CITY COUNCIL
August 7, 2002 -12:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street

CALL TO ORDER
Mayor DeBoer called the meeting to order at 12:05p.m.

ATTENDANCE
Councilors Laws, Reid, Hartzell, Jackson and Morrison were present. Councilor Hearn was absent.

I. MT. ASHLAND SKI AREA EXPANSION UPDATE
City Administrator Greg Scoles announced that Linda Duffy from the US Forest Service would be unable to attend this meeting due to scheduling conflicts.

City Attorney Paul Nolte explained the role of the City in regards to the Mt. Ashland Expansion. He clarified that the City has a Forest Service Use Permit for the Mt. Ashland that expires in 2017, and that the City assigned this permit to the Mt. Ashland Association (MAA). The MAA is required to perform all obligations of, and hold the City harmless for; anything the City is required to do under the permit. The lease gives exclusive possession to MAA to operate a ski area, and covers an area larger than both the existing ski area and the area of the proposed expansion. The City is the conduit to ensuring that the ski area continues operation, but the City's only role in the operation is as Lessor.

It was noted that, legally, the City does not have say in how the ski area is operated, and has no right to approve or disapprove of building or expansion. When the permit was assigned to the Association it gave them the right to expand and do anything permissible under the terms of the permit. If the Association breaches the terms of the lease by failing to perform up to the terms of the Forest Service Use Permit, then the City could initiate action to terminate the lease. The City owns all ski area assets and to protect the City from liability should the ski area fail, the City requires the MAA to maintain enough assets to cover the costs of restoring the area. Determination of the value of assets and restoration costs was based on discussion with the Forest Service and persons familiar with the mountain.

Morrison questioned if there are strings attached to the $500,000 of grant monies that were used to help purchase the ski area. Nolte replied that while he had not specifically reviewed that portion of the contract for this meeting, generally, once a project is completed and operated for a certain period of time, then any strings fall away.

Mayor DeBoer noted that he served on the MAA Board for six years. Past Board Member Pat Acklin, representing the MAA, introduced current Board members Tom Reid and Ron Roth, past Board members Buzz Sawyer and Murial Ames, and various staff members. She spoke about expansion plans and other operational and planning issues, noting that the Strategic Plan works on developing an organization that would fit with the kind of expansion that is planned. MAA takes very seriously the responsibility of managing a business that is a hybrid between a public sector organization and a private sector organization that provides a service (recreation) to the public. A large part of the expansion is needed to keep the business healthy, but also to serve a growing number of other types of needs, including helping to maintain quality of life, community involvement, and provide various citizen programs. She clarified that at the time the City entered into the agreement, the permit area's Land Area Designation was "Developed Recreation," and that the ski area and the expansion fit with this designation.

Jeff Hanson, General Manager of the MAA, explained that the relationship of the City with the ski area goes back to 1963 when the area was first built. He clarified that the area covered by the lease is exactly the area covered by the Special Use Permit, and that while the lease value has a minimum liquidation valuation of $200,000 multiplied by the Cost of Living Index (CPI), the original trust fund consisted of assets worth $1.2 million. With assets replacements and such, as designated in the lease, that value is now much higher. He noted that a key part of the their mission is to keep the ski area viable for the long term and protect the City's interests.

Hanson presented visual presentation on the history of the ski area and the Association's 2002 Proposal, highlighting the following points:

MAA Vision Statement: To be a vital community asset recognized throughout out the region for providing a variety of welcoming, and fulfilling recreation and educational experiences in the alpine environment.

Of the ten Goals in the strategic Plan, these three are most germane to the Long Term Plan:

  • We will seek to improve the quality of the guest experience by anticipating and being responsive to their needs.
  • We will enhance our guest experience and our vitality by improving facilities and terrain balance.
  • We will create and implement a development program to fund program enhancements and planned expansion and related improvements.

Goals and Objectives of Enhancement Plans:  Terrain Balance and Diversity:

  • Improve balance of terrain by ability level.
  • Provide suitable terrain for beginners.
  • Ease access to existing lower level terrain.
  • Increase terrain for special programs/competitions.
  • Provide diverse terrain.
  • Provide recreation opportunities for non-skiers.

Update and Balance Guest Services and Facilities

  • Replace and remodel crowded and outdated skier service facilities.
  • Improve access to skier services.

Economic Viability and Longevity

  • Improve quality of ski area facilities.
  • Customer awareness and regional competition - MASA does not provide the necessary facilities to attract and retain beginner and intermediate level guests which represent a major portion of the skier market. Generally 75% of the market is beginner through intermediate. The MAA proposal includes additional lower ability level terrain and a more diverse winter recreational offering in order to appeal to the broadest spectrum of the skiing and snowboarding market place.
  • Economic viability and longevity - Novice and Intermediate runs have a higher safe capacity. Ski areas with a balanced terrain mix have a lower operating cost per skier visit. The Economic Analysis performed for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concluded that Mt. Ashland is reaching its skier visit potential and has a substantially better chance to succeed financially with an enhanced and expanded recreation program.

Watershed Condition

  • The MAA proposal includes watershed restoration projects, as well as additional structural erosion and sediment control/stormwater management practices, in order to maintain and improve the trend of recovery of these sub-watersheds in the vicinity of the ski area. There are two different budgets for this and at this point runs about 2.5% of revenue.

Proposed Improvements to meet Goals and Objectives: All plans are well within the Special Use Permit boundaries.

  • New ski lifts. These will help diversify the winter recreation experience.
  • New ski runs, including novice, low intermediate, intermediate, intermediate-novice, intermediate-advanced, and expert. Even with the expansion this will result in less than 5% of the ski-able terrain that Mt. Bachelor offers.
  • Ski run widening.
  • Snow tubing.
  • Moraine Lodge (warming yurt.)
  • Ticket services building with outside ticket sales and a warming area.
  • Main lodge remodeling.
  • Snow Tubing yurt.
  • Arrival Services/Rental Shop.
  • Additional parking solutions and shuttles.

Providing winter recreation with respect for Nature: Environment analysis and Construction Planning: The Mt. Ashland proposal utilizes modern ski area design techniques, including the use of existing open areas to limit necessary cutting and placing the proposed runs on dry ridges far from streams.

Construction methods to prevent erosion

  • Maintenance of natural ground vegetation.
  • Minimal cross-slope runs, but when needed, designed with drainage patterns built in and slopes rock armored and planted.
  • Primary use of cut trees is for soil building and erosion control.
  • Helicopter removal for remaining trees.

Plant and animal habitat: The 2000 Draft EIS indicates that "…on landscape scale, the extent of the ski expansion project is small relative the Mt. Ashland Late-Successional Reserve. Little direct or indirect effects on species dispersal process are expected."

Creek and wetlands protection: While runs are generally on dry ridges away from the water the west side run does need to come down and cross Ashland Creek.

  • The Challenge: Crossing 3 small (2 feet wide or less) tributaries of Ashland Creek and associated wetland with no effect on water quality while maintaining proper slope and width for the ski trail.
  • The Process: Working with forest Service and private consultants to survey vegetation, including Englemann Spruce, delineate wetlands, develop options, and design an appropriate crossing.
  • The Solution: Re-routing trail to avoid sensitive wetlands and Englemann Spruce and to require only one crossing. Crossing is designed to have no structure in the wetland.

Water quality:

  • The present area, which was not constructed with today's environmental consciousness, shows no evidence of accelerated slope instability. No adverse effects from implementation are anticipated.
  • Mt. Ashland's potable water source, 20 feet from a ski run, has an unblemished quality record through 35 years, and surrounding wetland is healthy.
  • Using best management practices with quality monitoring will ensure continued high water quality.

Ron Roth/6950 Old 99 South/Commented that we are fortunate to have Jeff Hanson and Linda Duffy looking out for our watershed. He shared his long history and involvement with the MAA and Headwaters, noting that basically the Mt. Ashland Ski Area is a public park, not just an Ashland park. He noted that most of the controversy in this project is the crossing of the creek on the new run, which he believes can be accomplished in an environmentally sensitive manner. He explained that substantial changes have been made to the original plan and the redesign will have minimal impact on wetlands and watershed. A bridge will cross the creek with the ends of the bridge set in upland area. Another change is moving the lift to the east, resulting in zero impact on wetlands from lift tower construction. He encouraged the Council to walk the area.

City Administrator, Greg Scoles, briefly spoke of the NEPA process. The second EIS draft is in the process of being completed. A number of things have disrupted the timeline, notably, funding and the current forest fires. The soonest the document might be competed would be November or December of this year. Once the draft is released, there will be a 30 to 60 day public comment period. The draft will contain alternatives to the proposal just presented.

Tom Dimitre, Chair of the Rogue River Sierra Club, presented an aerial photo of the current ski area noting concern that in the proposed expansion there would be 80 acres of clear cutting in the watershed. He explained that wildlife habitat would be fragmented and the watershed negatively impacted. He noted that the Northwest Forest Plan states that cutting is not allowed in streamside areas. He wondered how the expansion would be funded. He suggested that $1.5 to $2 million might be saved by not expanding in the middle branch.

Chris Fowler, of Headwaters, commented on the divisiveness this issue has caused within the community and that Headwaters became involved because of concerns about expansion into the drainage area. After meeting with the Forest Service and MAA they have come up with alternatives to the present plan. Photos of the area were presented indicating sensitive areas. An alternative plan was suggested that did not modify terrain in the middle branch, and which designated that area for wilderness skiing. A shuttle from the base was suggested.

Jeff Hanson commented that all agree that there must be a viable area that protects the environment. He noted that this area was exempted from the "Roadless Area" for the purpose of developed recreation. Regarding the Northwest Forest Plan, it is important that we meet all points of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy within that plan. Prior to the study of each area there are riparian reserves set aside until the study is done. Once the study is done, if it does show that those areas can be utilized for recreation facilities, then it does not prohibit this type of project. He noted that by implementing a large additional infrastructure to an area that really doesn't change the terrain balance, the mix, or the size very much, operational cost is added to an area that hasn't grown and become more attractive. This is an economic recipe for failure.

Joanne Eggers/221 Granite Street/Member of Headwaters Board of Directors/Felt that if the expansion goes into the middle branch, values will be lost which can never be recovered.

Michael Goldman/198 Alicia/Environmentalist and past member of the Ashland Community Food Store Board of Directors, commented that he believes that what we have here is environmentalism run amok. If this issue were put to a vote of the people we would find that a great majority support allowing the expansion. This expansion is not for corporate greed, but for the good of community.

Eric Navickas/711 Faith/Explained that the City does have responsibility to be involved in the NEPA process and the issue demands Council review.

Buckley/formerly of SOU Ski Patrol/Commented on his experiences as a ski instructor, noting that there is a definite need for more low-intermediate runs.

Marilyn Briggs/590 Glenview Dr/Stated that she is in favor of a compromise and submitted a letter outlining her position. She asked that a charette be organized.

Chris Adams/955 Pinecrest/Commented that while he appreciates the environmental concerns raised, he believes that with the large amount of open land in Oregon the, 70 acres of clear cut would not end the world. He noted that the City of Boulder intentionally clear-cut strip in their watershed in order to accumulate snow which augments summer flow. He suggested that unless there is scientific proof that water quality will be compromised, that we should go ahead with the expansion and stop spending public money on these various challenges.

George Sexton/1433 E Main/Noted that after the 1996-97 floods the scientific consensus was that clear cutting increases peak flows, so 80 acres of clear cutting in the municipal watershed will impact peak flows and sedimentation. He explained that the purpose of the Riparian Reserve System in the Northwest Forest Plan is to mitigate those impacts, not to stop them. He noted a study that found that increases in peak flows are directly related to clear cutting and road building. He stated that he keeps hearing statements of "we need" concerning intermediate runs, and that a better way of putting it would be "we want."

ADJOURNMENT
Meeting was adjourned at 1:55 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,  
Barbara Christensen, City Recorder

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