Environmentalists oppose new ski slope plan

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Korea’s largest environmental group urged the organizing committee for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Gangwon Province, Wednesday, to scrap their plan to build a ski slope on Mt. Gariwang.

In 2012, the organizing committee designated the mountain, which is 1,560 meters high, as the venue for the downhill competition during the Olympics.

Despite opposition from environmentalists, the construction of a ski slope will begin early next month, according to the provincial government.

The activists insist there is no need to build a new slope because there are alternative places that can be used for the ski competition.

The organizing committee has cited the International Ski Federation (ISF) rules as to why it had to choose Mt. Gariwang.

Under the rules, a ski slope should be located at least 800 meters above sea level. However, an ISF clause also states that a ski slope located 750 meters above sea level can be used for Olympic competition under “exceptional circumstances,” according to the activists.

“This makes it unnecessary to build a new ski resort on Mt. Gariwang. An existing one can be utilized,” said Yoon Ki-don, secretary general of Green Korea, during a press conference in Seoul. He added the 750-meter requirement makes neighboring Yongpyong Ski Resort the optimum site for the ski competition.

The organization said it represents a coalition of dozens of environmental groups that oppose the construction.

An official from Gangwon Province said, “We will soon submit a plan to minimize the environmental damage from the construction. We will then be able to start construction in early June.”

The controversy over building a ski slope on Mt. Gariwang dates back to 2011, when Pyeongchang was chosen as the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Environmental activists have voiced opposition, saying cutting down trees on the mountain for a week-long ski event was a “dangerous trade-off.”

Mt. Gariwang’s ecological value has been recognized nationally.

The Korea Forest Service listed the mountain as a site for the “protection of flora genes and forest eco-systems. ” It is believed to be a huge habitat for Wangsasure trees (a type of Aspen) unique to Korea. However, the service removed its name from the list last year, approving resort construction.

Reflecting the environmental concerns, the environment ministry, last year, ordered that the organizing committee and Gangwon Province submit a recovery plan for after the Games and engage representatives of environmental groups in the process. The groups have turned down the request to cooperate as a protest.

Kim Se-jeong, The Korea Times

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