Protecting the fragile alpine ecosystem within the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area has been a major endeavor of Friends of Mount Hood. The extensive Stringer Meadows wetlands complex, the large Hood River Meadows Wetland, and numerous smaller wetlands are found within the ski area boundary. The area also contains alpine meadows, alpine forests, and the headwaters of the East Fork of Hood River.
Over the years the construction of ski lifts, ski runs, ski lodges and related buildings, roads, and parking lots resulted in considerable damage to this sensitive ecosystem. In particular, some of the wetlands in the Main Base area were covered with fill dirt, and streams flowing into the East Fork of Hood River were confined to underground culverts to enable the construction of the lower terminals of the Blue and Mt. Hood Express lifts, the lodges, and the parking lot adjacent to the East Fork of Hood River. Stands of white bark pine at high elevations have been cut for ski runs in addition to large trees at lower elevations. At the Westside Base, the graveled Annex parking lot damaged a former wetland at the western side of the lot. Along the southern edge of the parking lot the bank of Mitchell Creek was covered with large quantities of gravel and sediment due to water run-off from the lot.
When the U.S. Forest Service approved in 1997 a new conceptual Master Plan for the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area, a coalition of environmental groups organized and led by Friends of Mount Hood filed a challenge in the U.S. Federal District Court regarding the plan. The conceputual approval in the Master Plan for parking lot expansions at the Main Base and Westside Base was one of several reasons for filing the suit. More detailed information on the litigation is found at Mt. hood Meadows Litigation History.
In 2001 the District Court enjoined Mt. Hood Meadows from proceeding with any project at the ski area that increased parking. This injunction was in place until the fall of 2005. At that point, the District Court dissolved the parking injunction and ruled that the Forest Service and Mt. Hood Meadows could proceed with the parking expansions authorized by the 1997 Master Plan. Friends of Mount Hood and its co-plaintiff conservation groups filed an appeal with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. During the spring of 2006, Friends of Mount Hood and Mt. Hood Meadows agreed to enter into mediated discussions over parking and snowmaking issues. The case before the Ninth Circuit Court was stayed while the parties made an effort to reach an agreement on parking expansions at the ski area. Nearly three years of intensive discussions followed. In June, 2009, the parties reached an agreement on parking at the Main and Westside Bases.
An outline of the settlement agreement follows.
Mt. Hood Meadows agrees not to apply to the Forest Service for authorization to develop any parking expansions approved in the 1997 Master Plan at the Main Base or the Westside Base, except for improvements to the Annex parking lot.
Improvement of the Annex parking lot
Mt. Hood Meadows may apply to the Forest Service for permission to improve the Annex parking lot in the Westside Base area.
- The improvements will include paving the Annex lot and the adjacent former snow storage site.
- A stormwater control system will be installed along the southern edge of the parking lot to control water run-off into Mitchell Creek.
- Wetland restoration and enhancement for approximately a third of an acre will take place at the southwestern edge of the parking lot.
- A small skier services building may be located at the northwestern edge of the parking lot. Shuttle bus transportation from the Annex lot to the Main Base lodges will be available.
Dismissal of the Appeal
Friends of Mount Hood and co-plaintiffs agree to ask for dismissal of the pending appeal of the 1997 Master Plan in the Ninth Circuit Court.
Throughout the mediation meetings, a primary focus of Friends of Mount Hood was the protection of high elevation wetlands and clear flowing streams in the headwaters area of the East Fork of Hood River. Friends of Mount Hood regards the committment by Mt. Hood Meadows not to seek any parking increases of the type allowed in the 1997 Master Plan at the Main or Westside Bases as a major joint achievement toward protecting the alpine ecosystem in this region of Mt. Hood.
What is Next
Mt. Hood Meadows received permission from the Forest Service to begin implementing improvements to the Annex parking lot during the late summer and fall of 2009. Friends of Mount Hood views the improvements as environmentally beneficial. Previously, water run-off from the gravel surface of the parking lot annually deposited large quantities of gravel and sediment on the adjacent bank and creek bed of Mitchell Creek, a tributary of the East Fork of Hood River. Mt. Hood Meadows has renamed the paved lot the Sunrise Parking lot.
Attorney Karl Anuta has provided legal counsel to Friends of Mount Hood since the organization was formed, and he represented Friends of Mount Hood in the suit filed in the Federal District Court over the 1997 Master Plan for Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area. In 2001 Attorney Chris Winter started working with Anuta on the lawsuit, and he has represented Friends of Mount Hood in the mediation with Mt. Hood Meadows.
The following environmental organizations were co-plaintiffs in the appeal filed with the Ninth Circuit Court: Hood River Valley Residents Committee, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Oregon Wild, Mazamas, Oregon Sierra Club Columbia Group, American Lands Alliance.
The early mediation sessions between Friends of Mount Hood and Mt. Hood Meadows benefited from the assistance of Robert Fisher, a professional mediator whose services were partly funded by a grant from the Oregon Consensus Center.