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Environmental group sues over ski area expansion

Sat., June 18, 2011

An environmental group is challenging the Washington State Park and Recreation Commission’s decision to reclassify part of Mount Spokane State Park’s undeveloped terrain as suitable for a ski area expansion.

The commission’s May 19 decision cleared the way for Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to expand into 279 acres of an 850-acre area recognized as one of the largest unbroken tracts of subalpine habitat left in Spokane County. The nonprofit ski area proposes to develop a new lift and seven runs on the mountain’s northwest face.

The Lands Council filed the lawsuit Friday in Thurston County Superior Court. Since the ski expansion is likely to harm old-growth habitat, the commission members should have required an environmental impact statement before making their decision, the lawsuit claims.

“An EIS would have fully and fairly compared the risk of the ski area expansion with the benefits of the previous management of the area as natural forest,” said Jeff Juel, the Lands Council’s forest policy director.

The Lands Council is also concerned that allowing Mt. Spokane to expand would displace other recreational activities on the mountain, such as snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, hiking, wildlife watching and huckleberry picking, said Mike Petersen, the council’s executive director.

“We value the ski area for the opportunity it provides for Spokane residents and want it to succeed, but we believe that the ski area can thrive within its present footprint,” Petersen said.

Alpine ski advocates say that Mt. Spokane’s operators need access to deeper snow on the north-facing slopes, allowing the resort to extend its season. Safety is also a concern, the ski area’s general manager, Brad McQuarrie, has said.

Skiers already use the area even though it isn’t patrolled, McQuarrie said. As a result, Mt. Spokane ends up responding to calls for lost or injured skiers in the area, he said.

The ski area is operated by Mt. Spokane 2000. The nonprofit board is headed by Jim Meyer, husband of Betsy Cowles, the chairman of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

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