An in-depth study of the environmental impact of Salt Lake City hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics should be conducted if the city wins the U.S. bid for the Games, an Olympic organizing subcommittee said Tuesday.
Additionally, a light-rail system on the I-15 corridor in Salt Lake County would greatly enhance moving 200,000 Olympic athletes and spectators during the Games, Utah Transit Authority head John Pingree told the subcommittee.The technical subcommittee of the Salt Lake Winter Organizing Committee is, among other things, charged with locating dozens of Olympic venues in the area without trampling on environmental concerns.
The committee developed criteria "to ensure that the environment is protected. It (the environment) was one of the major concerns in 1985 (when the city launched a failed bid for the 1994 Games)," said Ann Wechsler of Save Our Canyons.
The committee passed a list of environmental criteria to address those concerns and others that have arisen since then. Foremost among those criteria is a required environmental impact study of areas affected by the Olympics.
"We should take advantage of the opportunity (of hosting the Olympics) to further our knowledge and understanding of the environment," Wechsler said, adding that Salt Lake could become a "winter environmental study area."
The study area would allow officials to determine the impact of Olympic venues on the environment and develop mitigation techniques for those impacts, she said.
The city should begin the environmental study if and when the U.S. Olympic Committee chooses Salt Lake City as the U.S. bidder, said member David Eckhoff.
If Salt Lake City wins the U.S. bid, the city must then go before the International Olympic Committee, which will determine the actual host for the Games.
The environmental study must "provide assurance that the environmental quality of Utah can be maintained or restored," Eckhoff said. Private and governmental agencies would join in the study, he said.
Committee members said the criteria, which include avoiding watershed areas, would likely prevent any Olympic venues from being located in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons, where Salt Lake City's watershed is.
Meanwhile, Pingree said transportation needs for the Games realistically could be met. The Games would require 800 buses, twice the number now operated by UTA, he said. However, 400 buses could be rented.
Committee member Jack Turner said that in Calgary, Canada - the 1988 Winter Olympics host - officials closed schools in the area for three weeks and used school buses to transport athletes and spectators.
"I assume that kind of thing could be done here," Pingree said.
Also, a light-rail system along the I-15 corridor could be under construction in the early 1990s to speed travelers throughout the city, Pingree said.
Pingree said the potential of Salt Lake City hosting the Games would have little effect on efforts to secure federal support for the $225 million project, half of which must be funded locally.
"But it wouldn't hurt," he said.
Bonding and an accompanying tax increase to build a light-rail system must undergo a referendum vote by those citizens served by UTA, he said.