Even though Salt Lake City is nearing the end of a four-year, privately financed, $7 million quest to host the Winter Olympic Games for 2002, the subject has barely surfaced in Utah. Yet a decision is imminent: On June 16 the International Olympic Committee will select from four cities, and Salt Lake and Quebec appear to be the front runners.
"It concerns us,
but not enough to enlist us to the cause," says Michael Matz of the
usually outspoken Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The Utah
Wilderness Association is also sitting this one out. "We're limited
in what we can do," George Nickas says, adding that with limited
resources, the focus is on Utah's contentious BLM wilderness
Only one major Utah
environmental organization has belatedly entered the debate. The
10,000 members of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club last month
received a letter and petition asking for help in getting enough
signatures to put an Olympics-related referendum on the ballot next
fall. That referendum movement is also promoted by Utahns for
Responsible Public Spending, which attacks the games on economic,
not environmental, grounds.
"The tree-huggers got
snookered," says the group's Steven Pace. "The Sierra Club has been
a big help, but it would have helped if they'd come out sooner."
Environmental passivity has its roots in 1984,
when civic boosters and government leaders conducted a feasibility
study to see if Utah should seek another Olympic bid. The city had
bid two previous times.
The 1984 study
recommended that Salt Lake City seek the games, while pledging to
stay away from Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, home of ski
resorts Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude. The canyons are
zealously protected by Salt Lake-area watchdog groups such as Save
Our Canyons and the Wasatch Mountain Club, which are concerned
about development in the narrow, avalanche-prone canyons. Pace, a
frequent backcountry user of the canyons, says environmentalists
were so shocked by victory over the canyons "that they were too
dumbfounded to ask for any real concessions."
Back in the mid-1980s, games advocates said the
Olympic bid process itself would bring attention to the state, then
mired in an economic depression. But since the mid-'80s slump, Salt
Lake City has become hot. Its computer software businesses rank
second only to California's Silicon Valley for employment, and
growth is so rapid the biggest headache for city and state planners
is coping with success - keeping traffic flowing on crowded roads,
trying to cut air pollution and building schools fast
Now, instead of emphasizing the economic
value of the Olympics, Olympic boosters talk about inspiring Utah's
youth to catch the "Olympic spirit."
can be seen in a lower-income neighborhood in the suburb of Kearns.
There, eager kids from Beehive Elementary School gather around a
16-time Polish speed-skating champion who now works for the U.S.
Olympic Committee. Stanislaw Klotkowski is visiting because next
door to the school, construction workers are finishing work on an
Olympic speed-skating oval. The oval, along with a ski-jumping
complex and bobsled and luge track near the resort town of Park
City, are legacies of the Olympic bid, whether it is successful or
not. In order to get the U.S. rights to try for the games, the U.S.
Olympic Committee required Salt Lake to build Olympic venues years
ahead. A 1989 statewide referendum approved the diversion of $59
million in sales tax revenue to build the facilities, which are
"Look what's happening already,"
marvels Mike Korologos, communications director for the bid
committee. "Those kids are hooking their dreams to Stan. They'll be
ice skating instead of painting graffiti on overpasses."
The Olympic spirit argument may have replaced
economic development as a goal of Salt Lake City's bid, but it
hasn't blinded critics to the fact that hosting the games in Salt
Lake will focus more attention on the area and encourage growth.
That's why the Sierra Club recently jumped into the
Utah Sierra Chairman Rudy Lukez says the
Sierra Club is writing a report it plans to deliver to each of the
93 members of the International Olympic Committee before their June
"No one's sat down and had a vision as to
where we are going with all this growth," Lukez
John Hoagland, a winter sports specialist
for the Forest Service, says he hopes the concern about growth
impacts forces the bid committee to put more of an environmental
spin on the games. Hoagland went to Lillehammer as an agency
observer and came away impressed with the town's incorporation of
environmental issues into every facet of their
The bid committee's Korologos says concern
for the environment is already central to the bid. He points to the
exclusion of the Cottonwood canyons as one example, and says the
1.7 million ticket holders expected will be required to take
natural gas-powered buses to events.
Lake City Olympic Bid Committee can be reached at 215 South State,
Suite 2002, Salt Lake City, UT 84111 (801/322-2002). The Utah
Sierra Club Chapter can be reached at 2273 South Highland Drive,
Salt Lake City, UT 84106 (801/467-9297). Utahns For Responsible
Public Spending can be reached at 181 B Street, Salt Lake City, UT
Reporter Larry Warren
covers the environment and Olympics beats for KUTV in Salt Lake