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‘88 GAMES DID GOOD AS WELL AS HARM, SAY ENVIRONMENTALISTS

SHARE ‘88 GAMES DID GOOD AS WELL AS HARM, SAY ENVIRONMENTALISTS

While Utah environmentalists lie dormant during the state's bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics, conservationists in Calgary waged war with 1988 Winter Olympic organizers.

The Canadian ecology movement played a major role in Calgary's Olympic movement. Some Canadians attribute Calgary's loss of the 1976 Games to Innsbruck, Austria, to environmental protests against a Canadian Olympics.Still, although conservationists did their best in the past to snuff an Olympic flame in Canada and took organizers to task - and to court - during 1988 Olympic preparations, many reserve praise for Calgary's Winter Olympics.

Little environmental controversy surrounded the Calgary Olympics until organizers abandoned plans to use an existing ski area for Olympic events in favor of carving a new resort from a mountainside in a pristine national park.

Organizers chose to build from scratch a $25 million ski area now called Nakiska on a wind-swept mountain previously best known for the region's healthiest herd of big horn sheep.

"It was a great treasure that we had in that herd," lamented Valerius Geist, professor of environmental science at the University of Calgary.

Now, however, the herd, once 300 strong, has been reduced to slightly more than 100 sheep, according to the Alberta Wilderness Association, a loss that could have been avoided by adequate planning, an environmentalist said.

"Careful environmental analysis should be a very central part of the process of siting venues," said Stephen Herrero, Geist's colleague at the university's environmental science department.

Nakiska proved not only to be damaging to the area's sheep population but is a poor skiing facility, too, Geist said. Chinook winds batter the area daily and snow conditions are so poor that tons of water is necessary to make snow to augment natural conditions.

Environmentalists say they tried in vain to incorporate environmental considerations into the Games planning process, but fighting against them in their effort was the International Olympic Committee.

"I would charge that the International Olympic Committee is an environmental hazard we can all do without, and consequently I condemn the Olympics," Geist fumed.

"The International Olympic Committee is there to run the Olympics and not particularly to respect the local environment," added Herrero.

Canadian organizers also opened a road normally kept closed during winter months to protect wildlife habitat so they could gain access to one Olympic venue. The Alberta Wilderness Association took organizers to court over the issue.

The environmentalists lost and the road opened to the athletes. But poachers found the road equally inviting and killed deer and elk before the games opened, reported Vivian Pharis, president of the wilderness association.

The 1998 Winter Olympics also accelerated commercial development in the once-sleepy village of Canmore, the site of the 1988 nordic competitions.

"Canmore's major surge of development caused a major change in character of life - some would say that is good and some would say that's bad," Herrero said.

Still, Herrero restricts absolute criticism of the Games coming to his city.

"I really thoroughly enjoyed the Olympics in many ways. There are some aspects that could have been done much better, but it's not black and white. Seldom is the world black and white," he said.

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(CHART)

Calgary support for hosting '88 Winter Olympics

Don't Know Against For Olympics

1983 6.5 percent 8.8 percent 84.7 percent

1984 4.4 percent 7.9 percent 87.6 percent

1985 8.1 percent 5.3 percent 86.6 percent

1986 8.7 percent 5.8 percent 85.6 percent

1987 (spring) 3.0 percent 9.0 percent 88.0 percent

1987 (fall) 2.5 percent 8.8 percent 88.7 percent

1988 1.3 percent 1.0 percent 97.8 percent