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Friday, July 3, 1998

Osaka's Olympic bid raises issues of debt, toxins


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Two local citizens' groups, concerned about Osaka's bid for the 2008 Olympics, are questioning the city's plans, with one group suggesting an assessment of the financial, social and environmental impact of the Games be conducted first and the other actively trying to stop the bid itself.

The Committee to Think About the Osaka Olympic Bid, formed last September, consists of people both for and against the Games coming to Osaka. The other group, the Osaka Needs No Olympics Citizens' Union, also formed last year, consists of a public watchdog and environmental activists actively opposed to the Olympics.

Late last month, representatives from the latter organization traveled to Tokyo to meet with Education Ministry officials and asked that central government permission for Osaka's bid be withdrawn. Members of the group cited concern over the city's financial situation and potential dioxin problems on Maishima Island in Osaka Bay -- where the Olympic Stadium would be built -- as the main reasons for their request.

Shortly before their trip to Tokyo, the members submitted a detailed list of questions to Osaka officials about the financial and environmental effects of an Osaka Olympics. Last week, they received a series of written answers.

The main concern of both groups is whether Osaka taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for facilities that no one would use afterward. The Osaka Needs No Olympics Citizens' Union estimates that another 1 trillion yen in local bonds would have to be issued to pay for Games-related infrastructure construction, including a subway system to connect Maishima Island with the mainland.

In its reply to the group, Osaka did not address the possibility of increased municipal bonds, saying only that it wanted the central government to pay for as much of the construction of the 100,000-seat stadium and Olympic pool as possible. The sports facilities, the city said, are necessary to help revitalize the bay area.

Last year, however, central government officials and senior officials in the Liberal Democratic Party told Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura that the city cannot count on large sums of national government money for its Olympic bid.

On the environmental problems at Maishima -- which include methane gas trapped underground on the northern part of the island and potentially high levels of dioxin -- the city admitted that 1.4 picograms per liter of dioxin have been discovered on part of the island. However, this is a small amount and within Japanese environmental guidelines, it said.

As for the estimated 2,000 cu. liters of gas that are being emitted daily, city officials said they would continue to monitor the situation periodically.



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