By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio mayor Eduardo Paes has caused a stir with controversial plans for the new 2016 Olympic golf course set to be built in Barra da Tijuca. Paes’ ambitious plan would see part of an area of preservation swallowed up to make way for the eighteen-hole course.
In order to accommodate the new golf course layout, recently reelected Paes (PMDB) will need to change laws regarding to the parameters of the land, thus enabling the city to make it available for Olympic use in 2016.
In total, a stretch of 58km², previously considered protected land and part of the Zona de Conservação da Vida Silvestre (ZCVS) will be destroyed, with the mayor promising to protect the Praia da Reserva by means of compensating some incensed Carioca residents.
“The Área de Preservação Ambiental (APA) will lose a small part of its area. But, in compensation, the law is going to guarantee the preservation of a much bigger space,” Paes claimed.
The new proposal is to incorporate the Praia da Reserva into the Parque Marapendi, thus cementing the longevity of both sites. But the news has done little to deter environmental activists from protesting the proposals, particularly since the mayor has failed to inform the public of the size of the new area set to be declared a conservation zone.
Despite the ZCVS losing only six percent to the new golf course, the golf course will take up an area of 1,000,000 m², expanding right to the very outskirts of another preserved area, the APA of Marapendi. However the Rio 2016 Committee believes there is no other option than to build a brand new course.
Before reaching this decision, the committee visited the two existing courses in Rio, the Gávea Golf Club and the Itanhangá Golf Club, and concluded that neither was suitable for adaptations to an Olympic style course due to the difficulties in making the necessary adjustments.
Both the city council and the Rio 2016 Committee had been aware of the course limitations for the last eight months since Hanse Golf Course Design, the American design firm, were awarded the contract for designing the new course in Barra da Tijuca. In order to build a course of Olympic proportions it is necessary to use such a vast space and cut slightly into a previously preserved area.
Yet Sergio Dias, the municipal secretary for urban planning, remains opposed to the proposed changes, declaring that when the APA was created in 1991 the area was unequivocally declared a ZCVS, having suffered previous devastation. “Initially it [the area] was devastated by the extraction of sand, used as the primary material in the construction of the older apartment blocks in Barra,” he explained.
Rio councilwoman Andrea Gouvêa Vieira (PSDB) is also opposed to Paes’ plan, citing that the Olympics is being used to change ‘inconvenient’ rules. “The Olympics are turning into an excuse for everything. There are people wanting to change the city without any discussion.”
“It is a complete contradiction, wanting to change environmental law, and, at the same time, promoting the idea that we intend to promote a sustainable Olympic Games,” she said.