Brazilian prosecutors block construction of zip line at Rio’s touristic Sugar Loaf Mountain

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Brazil have blocked a decision to allow ziplines to be installed on Rio de Janeiro’s famous Sugar Loaf Mountain, saying they would damage the environment around one of the heritage sites. United Nations world.

Prosecutors announced the decision late Thursday, arguing that the Iphan, a federal body under the Culture Ministry, had “unlawfully” authorized the project after construction had already begun in September 2022.

Now, Iphan and the company responsible for building the zip lines are charged in a civil lawsuit and must each pay a fine of at least $9.5 million (50 million reais). Prosecutors gave the company 60 days to submit a schedule for repairing a damaged area and removing all structures and debris used at the construction site.

Sugarloaf – known in Portuguese as Pao de Açucar – juts out of the land at the entrance to Rio Bay. The United Nations Heritage Center named it a World Heritage Site in 2012 along with Rio’s other iconic mountains, and years earlier Brazil’s Heritage Institute designated it a National Monument.

The cable cars leading to its summit attract hundreds of thousands of Brazilian and international tourists every year, all eager to take in the panoramic views of the sprawling city’s beaches and forested mountains.

In March, some 200 people gathered under Sugarloaf Mountain to protest the ongoing construction of zip lines aimed at boosting tourism, alleging it would have an “unacceptable” environmental impact.

The zipline’s four steel lines would travel 755 meters (nearly 2,500 feet) above the forest between Sugarloaf and Urca Hill, and riders would reach speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph). The inauguration was scheduled for the second half of this year and an online petition to stop the work has been signed by nearly 11,000 people.

The place is also popular for sport climbing and birdwatching, with the unspoilt Atlantic Forest towering above the sleepy neighborhood of Urca. As such, the prospect of runners buzzing on wires while screaming at the top of their voices united mountaineers, environmental activists and opposition locals. They warned that UNESCO could revoke its heritage status.

Prosecutors acted after a public interest civil suit brought by Brazilian citizens demanded a halt to construction at Sugarloaf in order to protect the environment and its historical and cultural heritage. Federal prosecutors also found that the construction of the zip line “altered the natural contour of the land due to rock demolition … and drilling.”

Parque Bondinho Pao de Açúcar, which operates the cable cars and is behind the 50 million reais ($9.5 million) zipline project, said in a statement that sound tests indicate that passenger noise will not be noticeable from below, nor will it affect climbing routes. . He said he had obtained all the necessary permits and licenses to carry out the project, from the National Heritage Institute to the municipal authorities. He also argued that the project has the ability to boost tourism in the area.

“In addition to the great integration with nature, the intention is to improve the experience of our visitors and make the visit to Parque Bondinho Pao de Açucar even more pleasant and unforgettable,” the company says on its website. .

Opponents of the zip line project dubbed it “the castle of horrors” and expressed concern that it would be a harbinger of future interventions.

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AP writer Eléonore Hughes contributed.

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