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Alternate gondola route possible

Stawamus Chief friends come together John French Chief Staff Writer After a firestorm of protest this week, the men behind a proposal to put a gondola up the Stawamus Chief say they are willing to look at running the gondola from the edge of the Sea

Stawamus Chief friends come together

John French

Chief Staff Writer

After a firestorm of protest this week, the men behind a proposal to put a gondola up the Stawamus Chief say they are willing to look at running the gondola from the edge of the Sea to Sky Highway up to a viewpoint outside of the park.

The controversial proposal revealed by Whistler resort planners Paul Mathews and Peter Alder (see related story, page 3) brought together a coalition of people called Friends of the Chief, co-ordinated by local resident Megan Olesky.

The group met Wednesday (Aug. 25).

"It was a strategy meeting," Olesky said. "Our position statement is 'Friends of the Chief is a coalition of concerned citizens who want to keep the Chief gondola-free'".

The Friends of the Chief plans to meet weekly to create a media plan and to formulate a plan to prevent a gondola from being built in the park.

"We think that a gondola isn't a bad thing it is just a bad thing on the Chief," said Olesky. "We're not anti-gondola at all."

"We are not just an elite band of climbers; I myself am not a climber," said Olesky. "We are representing a wide range of the population."

Olesky's group believes that the Stawamus Chief is an icon for Squamish and that new commercial ventures on the highway will detract from efforts to revitalize the downtown.

"My concerns are that if people have access to these types of facilities on the highway they are not going to go downtown for things like coffee," Olesky said. "I'm afraid that is going to hurt businesses downtown economically and hurt the downtown core by keeping people on the highway. That it is going to hurt our reputation as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada."

The morning after Olesky's meeting, Mathews of Ecosign, said his planning company is open-minded and willing to look at running the gondola from the edge of the Sea to Sky Highway up to a viewpoint outside of the park.

"The key thing is to have the bottom at the highway," Mathews said.

If it works better to build the gondola to a point outside the park, Mathews said it will be looked at.Mathews also addressed questions around why the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VOCOG) is one of the four key stakeholders that will be consulted about the proposal before public consultations planned for this fall.

The other stakeholders are the District of Squamish, the Squamish Nation and the provincial Ministry of Transportation.

Mathews said that the provincial government wants VOCOG to be consulted because the province is very sensitive to the perception of how the Olympics will drive development.

"This is the provincial government's super-sensitivity to the Olympic thing in general," Mathews said. He added that provincial bureaucrats wanted the VOCOG to be on the stakeholder list.

That contradicts the claim of the Water, Lands and Air Protection minister. Liberal Cabinet Minister Bill Barisoff said on Friday (Aug. 20) that the province did not insist that VOCOG be consulted.

"It was their own set of priorities to include consultation with the Vancouver Olympic committee," said Barisoff.

Mathews speculated that if the gondola is built it might be shut down during the Olympic games because of the highway restrictions that are expected to be in place during the games period.

For his part, Barisoff said that he is not going into the gondola consultation process with an established position.

"It is a decision that should be made with the people of the area," Barisoff said last week. "If there is huge opposition it would be beyond me to deem that this is the right thing to do."

Barisoff stressed that he is not prejudging what is going to come out of the public consultation process he ordered the proponents to launch.

Barisoff outlined what will happen if there is broad support for the proposal once the consultation process is complete.

"The process that would take place at that time is they would submit it to staff and I would review it," Barisoff said. "We'd probably sit down with the local elected officials and make sure that we are singing off the same song sheet and then make a decision based on that consultation process."

Olesky is asking those who feel the same as her and the other Friends of the Chief to contact her at friendsofthechief@yahoo.ca.

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