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United States Forest Service in preliminary stages of proposed expansion project

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: MT. HOOD NATIONAL FOREST - Mt. Hood Meadows has proposed an 11,000-square-foot addition to its South Lodge, which will provide "more space for food and beverage services, ski school and rental operations.'
Thousands of skiers and snowboarders have contributed to the success of Mt. Hood Meadows throughout its 50 years in business. Now, ever-increasing demand is leading the resort to expand with an 11,000-square-foot addition to its South Lodge.

The project is intended to provide "more space for food and beverage services, ski school and rental operations," according to a letter from the U.S. Forest Service, which leases its land to the popular winter resort on Mount Hood's southeastern face.

"We're not developing any forest they haven't already," clarified Scott Kaden, special use permit administrator for the Mt. Hood National Forest. "It's more of addressing a shortcoming of the existing facility. The ground has been used for various purposes and is now being used for an additional day lodge space."

Dave Tragethon, vice president of communications and marketing at Mt. Hood Meadows, said the resort usually prefers to "wait to see how these things formulate in the process," before commenting in detail on the project.

The letter said the addition would "improve the recreational experience for the beginner by providing ski school services and equipment rentals at a more immediate location to (Mt. Hood Meadows') beginner ski lifts."

The scoping letter was sent out on Nov. 9 and a public comment period followed, during which the forest service heard comments, questions and concerns from the community, including the environmental group Friends of Mt. Hood (FOMH), until Nov. 25.

Kaden told The Post that because of the "nature and complexity" of the addition, the project does not outline the same amount of required public input periods as an environmental assessment or impact statement.

As some may recall, the ongoing timber sale in the Mt. Hood Forest's Barlow Ranger District, dubbed the Crystal Clear Restoration, is an environmental assessment and as such required several rounds of public comment.

This classification was one key aspect of the scoping document the FOMH disagreed with. Though they said the purpose and need presented were sound, they voiced a concern regarding the length of time given for public comment and the project's categorically excluded classification.

"The FOMH does not agree that this proposed project should be processed as a Categorically Excluded (CE) project," said Dennis Chaney, FOMH president, in his letter to the forest service. "This project should be done as an Environmental Assessment (EA), tiered to the Master Plan Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)."

Chaney went on to explain that FOMH believes some of the "impacts" of the project are positive, some are negative.  

"Collectively they are sufficient to make it clear this is not a project that can or should be done on a CE," he stated in the letter. "We encourage the USFS to proceed with an EA for this project, and we look forward to participating in that process."

The forest service is still working to process the other comments received and has not yet assessed the environmental impact of the proposed addition.

The next step is a resource analysis, in which the forest service crew will look at heritage, fisheries, hydrology, soils, silviculture, wildlife, recreation, visual impact and botany in the area.

"That's just our first effort to understand possible impact of the project," Kaden explained. "If we find extraordinary circumstances, the responsible supervisor would determine that, and we might change the process."

"I don't think any of the comments (we received) identified any extraordinary circumstances," Kaden added. "(But) we are at the very beginning of the resource analysis. It's really hard to predict when you start one of these projects where it's going to go."

Kaden said there should tentatively be a draft of resource analysis reports within the next few weeks and Mt. Hood Meadows management hopes to start construction in May or June.

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