By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Disbelief and disappointment still abound in Rio de Janeiro as the city comes to terms with both a tragedy and an embarrassment. On Thursday, April 21st, only a few months after it was opened and four months before the 2016 Olympic Games, a section of the city’s new coastal bike path collapsed after being struck by strong waves beneath it. Two people died and others were injured.
Rio’s Civil Police have opened an investigation into manslaughter. The city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, who flew back from the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece that day, said that there had been a failure and that the sea was the last factor to blame.
Paes accepted the resignation of Marcio Machado, the president of Geo-Rio, an organ of the Department of Municipal Works that contracted Concremat to build the pathway. He also acknowledged that the city was wrong not to have had a risk-management plan for use of the bike path during periods of high seas, or some measure to prevent access to the site when it was at risk. However he added that neither Concremat nor Geo-Rio made any recommendation in this respect
The Mayor said a contingency plan will be studied for when the bike path is rebuilt and completely reopened to the public. The parts that run on ground level have been reopened.
Concremat, which runs the Contemat-Concrejato consortium group, defended the quality of their work and the materials used in the construction of the R$45 million elevated bike track. They have launched an internal investigation with independent investigators. In a statement they discouraged any hasty conclusions to be drawn by people with no contact with the technical data of the work.
“It is estimated that the final report will be delivered within thirty days and we will not comment while this report is not completed. Work has already started, and Geo-Rio has made all technical material of project available,” said the statement issued by the group.
According to the contract drawn up between the City Hall and the consortium group, Contemat-Concrejato can be fined up to twenty percent of the total value of the work in case of failure. If the group is found to be responsible for the collapse it will be liable for approximately R$9 million and would be prohibited from partaking in any new future public tenders.
Contemat is one of seven companies of the Concremat group which was founded by Mauro Ribeiro Viegas. He is the grandfather of Rio’s Secretary of Tourism, Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello. The business group issued a statement in response to questions over how the contract was won.
It denies that their relationship had any bearing on the choice of company to build to the cycle path. “Trying to connect my company’s business name to simply kinship is unfounded and frivolous,” Fegueira de Mello said in a statement.
The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said that the waves were reaching five meters in height last Thursday, but that despite their intensity the undertow was not unprecedented. Mark Viana, of the Weather Forecasting and Climatic Studies department at the institute, told O Globo newspaper that large waves were common in the region in autumn and winter.
In the Folha de São Paulo, another newspaper, it was reported that the cycle path did not have the approval of the Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN). The agency said that it was not aware of the works, which should fall under its jurisdiction, until it was called on to monitor and research the archaeology of the area.