Mt. Hood Meadows, Ltd., has won a challenge against construction of a new chairlift at its ski resort.
Last week, the regional office of the U.S. Forest Service overturned an appeal against “Vista Express” that will extend for one mile and provide beginners with easier access to ski slopes.
“I’m not really surprised that we won the appeal because the way we designed and located the lift we avoided disturbing any environmentally sensitive areas. We utilized sustainable design criteria to the fullest extent,” said Dave Riley, Meadows general manager.
Chris Winter, attorney for the Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, who filed arguments on behalf of four appellants, said the non-profit group has not yet decided whether it will take legal action against the federal agency’s approval for the lift.
CRAG represents Friends of Mt. Hood, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, Oregon Natural Resources Council and Northwest Environmental Defense Center. Hood River resident Carl Ohgren also filed an individual appeal.
Winter said the appellants believe the chairlift will degrade natural resources on the public land leased by Meadows from the Forest Service.
However, Riley said the new lift was designed to follow existing roads as much as possible and necessitate only one-fifth of an acre of tree clearing.
In addition, he said the lift does not lie in a flood plain or wilderness area and studies have shown that it will not have any effect on endangered species.
According to Riley, Meadows has also prepared a vegetation plan that will minimize damage to white bark pine and other high alpine plant species. That plan will be coupled with increased ski patrols and increased signage to keep recreationists on groomed trails.
Meadows said the new lift will also provide an additional 33 acres of novice terrain — reducing the accident potential from skier congestion that now exceeds recommended norms by 50 percent on busy holidays and weekends during the winter months.
He said Vista Express will have detachable chairlifts to provide easier access for skiers with disabilities.
However, CRAG argues that the history of the ski resort’s growth clearly shows that past mitigation measures to protect the mountain have not prevented erosion and other environmental damages.
To back up those allegations, he included findings from independent scientists, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and photographs by Kate McCarthy of Mt. Hood, and other members of the public.
“Past experiences have proven that lift construction causes significant environmental damage,” wrote Winter in his appeal.
“How many times does the public have to watch the same mistakes repeated before the impacts of the next construction are both controversial and uncertain?”
However, Riley believes that any legal challenge will be overturned when the plans for the new lift are presented.
“If they choose to file a suit to stop the lift at this point it is my opinion that they will not prevail.
“This lift is one of the best environmentally designed projects I’ve ever seen and it will provide even more opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoor recreation area,” Riley said.