OLYMPIA – Environmental groups are asking Thurston County Superior Court to overturn a state agency’s decision allowing the Mount Spokane ski area to expand into areas with old-growth forest.
The Lands Council and the Spokane Audubon Society, joined by former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley and former Nature Conservancy land steward Fayette Krause, want a judge to review the decision of the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission found that the expansion area is suitable for the level of activity that expanded downhill skiing would generate.
That area, on what is often called the back side of the mountain, is a “valuable conservation asset of uncommon quality” that deserves protection, the lawsuit claims. The expansion will “radically alter (the area) by installing ski runs and lifts,” it says.
Representatives of Mt. Spokane 2000, the concessionaire for the ski park, and the parks commission said they couldn’t comment on the specifics of the claims because they haven’t seen the lawsuit. But Brad McQuarrie, general manager of Mt. Spokane 2000, said the project has been the subject of “a very long, transparent process” for nearly a decade. The president of Mt. Spokane 2000 is Jim Meyer, whose wife, Betsy Cowles, is chairwoman of The Spokesman-Review’s parent company.
The commission voted 5-2 in November to allow the expansion after receiving an environmental impact statement on the project, which would use 279 acres, adding one new chairlift and seven new trails.
“Mount Spokane State Park belongs to all the citizens of the state, not just to one small user group of skiers from the Spokane area for less than four months a year,” Roskelley said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.
The environmental groups are requesting what amounts to a judicial review of the parks commission decision, their attorney David Bricklin said.
If a judge agrees to simply review the record, it could result in a relatively fast decision, so the plaintiffs are not currently seeking an injunction to block work, Bricklin said. He contends the commission ignored its own regulations by agreeing to allow intensive recreation like skiing in an old-growth area.
Engineering and survey work is currently underway, McQuarrie said, but construction can’t start until after July 31, which is when breeding and nesting season for wildlife in the area ends.
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