By Bob Barnett Proponents of the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort are hoping a request to expand the first stage of the review process will be approved later this month, but many questions, including the project’s financial viability, have still to be answered. The period for public comment on the Garibaldi at Squamish resort proposal closed last Friday, March 27. The project review committee meets later this month and will consider a request by the District of Squamish to extend Stage 1 of the Environmental Assessment process an additional nine months. "That (the extension) will be raised with the project review committee and we’ll see what our legal obligations are within the process," said David Johns, the province’s project co-ordinator for the EA process. Under the Environmental Assessment process the project committee must make a recommendation within 40 days of the closing of the public review period. The recommendation can be to reject the project, approve the project or move on to Stage 2 of the process, where additional studies will be required. Garibaldi Alpen, the company behind the Garibaldi at Squamish project, is hoping to win approval in Stage 1 of the Environmental Assessment process. Once a project enters Stage 2 there is no time limit and requests for studies from various ministerial departments can drag the process out for months. "I don’t see going to Stage 2, they just develop more questions," said Bob Miles, vice president of administration and project development for Garibaldi at Squamish. Miles said last week the Ministry of Environment has submitted 56 pages of comments, from various departments and sub-committees. He hadn’t gone through the comments in detail as of last week, but said he "didn’t see any deal breakers." The District of Squamish last month requested Stage 1 be extended an additional nine months so that comments and questions submitted can be answered. "Stage 1 of the EA process essentially doesn’t allow for dialogue," Garibaldi Alpen Chairman Wolfgang Richter said last month. "We put out our concept plan and people or departments within the ministries ask questions, but we can’t answer. That’s the reason for the extension request." Whistler council passed a motion last week, on staff’s recommendation, that the project go to Stage 2. Municipal staff’s concerns were that more information on Garibaldi at Squamish’s impact on Highway 99 traffic be presented and a socio-economic assessment of the resort’s impact on Whistler be conducted. However, Whistler does support the idea of clustering ski resorts, which the staff report says "tends to broaden a region’s appeal beyond the traditional base of support enjoyed by a single resort." While most of the comments and questions raised during two public meetings in Whistler have centred around the project’s impact on the environment, the financial viability of the resort has faced less scrutiny. John Sager of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks said public comments on the viability of the resort have been received, however the financial projections presented by Garibaldi Alpen have yet to be tested. "That does and will happen, but not necessarily before Stage 1 of the EA process is complete," Sager said. Johns said an analysis of the project’s economic viability could be done under the Environmental Assessment process or under the province’s Commercial Alpine Ski Policy, since there is some overlap of the two. "We’re having discussions now on how best to do that," Johns said last week, adding that an independent consultant will likely be hired to test the numbers. "Stage 1 normally concludes with public comments and comments from agencies," Johns said. "Outstanding information or requests for information are handled in Stage 2. "Ultimately it’s up to the project committee to decide if the financial analysis is done under Stage 2." Garibaldi Alpen will submit its report on the public consultation process next week. The project committee meets April 15 and a decision on extending Stage 1 or moving to Stage 2 should come by early May.