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Olympics are not so green, environmentalists say

SLOC disputes claims, notes its positive efforts

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Olympic organizers have dubbed the 2002 Winter Olympics the "greenest Games ever."

But an environmental group critical of the Olympics doesn't think visitors should take the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's word for it.

"We don't want to be accused of being naysayers," said Wes Odell of Save Our Canyons, who served on SLOC's environmental advisory committee. "We want to educate the world, present the facts and let the historians and media decide."

Save Our Canyons announced Tuesday it will open its office at 68 S. Main to the public, primarily the national and international media, as a resource during the Games.

In its tabloid, "Are Utah's Winter Olympics as Green as Organizers Claim? Or Are Their Claims Green-Wash?" environmentalists provide historical accounts of the good, the bad, and the ugly decisions surrounding the environmental initiatives.

But Games organizers dispute some of the information, saying the group's findings contained many errors and failed to recognize other environmental programs.

"SLOC's environment department has been working with many organizations for years to plan and develop environment programs to get ready to host the Games. Some of these projects include SLOC's six tree programs, resulting in 18 million trees planted worldwide, zero emissions program, zero waste program, and the environment education programs," said Diane Conrad Gleason, SLOC's environment program director. "We have created many great partnerships and we look forward to hosting the greenest Games ever."

Environmentalists are unhappy about ski jumps carved into mountainsides, trees chopped down and new roads built for the Games.

The most worrisome of all is resort development as a result of the Olympics.

That's why Save Our Canyons was so critical of the controversial expansion project at the Snowbasin ski area near Ogden, where downhill and Super G ski races will be held during the Olympics.

"The Snowbasin land exchange is the most egregious (environmental action)" said Ivan Weber, an environmental planner.

Snowbasin said it needed an additional 1,300 acres to host Olympic skiing events. Rep. Jim Hansen proposed a bill to give Snowbasin adjacent Forest Service land in exchange for parcels Snowbasin's owner had around the state.

The measure passed in 1996, infuriating opponents who said the public was left out of the process.

"Environment is one of the (Olympic) pillars," said Joro Walker, an attorney with the Land and Water Fund. "Yet typical environmental laws don't apply when it comes to the Olympics. I find that very disturbing."

Environmentalists say an Olympic success is Wasatch Mountain State Park's Soldier Hollow, the Olympic venue of biathlon and cross-country events. SLOC's environmental advisory committee worked with sport officials to select a different site after much opposition to one at Little Dell.

"There was a bona fide collaboration and planning. Soldier Hollow is a good example of that," Odell said.

Tom Price, chairman of SLOC's environmental advisory committee, has mixed feelings about environmental planning for the Games.

"SLOC has done some great things like the tree ecology program and the environmental education efforts but in areas like transportation to the mountain venues, they've really dropped the ball and the environment is going to suffer."

Previous Olympics' lessons proved the need for extensive public transportation to all the venues, but in Salt Lake City, most spectators will have to drive to mountain skiing venues.

Organizers, however, have said the Olympics will make the air cleaner. Businesses will get a tax break by donating air pollution credits — essentially government vouchers giving owners the right to create a certain amount of pollution.

Recycling is another high point. Salt Lake City will have a one-bin system, and contractors will sort all the waste after it's thrown away.

"Save Our Canyons is not against the Olympics," said Gavin Noyes, the group's director. "We want to pass on what we have learned to other communities considering hosting Olympic Games."


E-mail: donna@desnews.com