By Lisa Flueckiger, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Controversies about the construction of the Olympic golf course, part of which lies in an environmentally protected area in Barra da Tijuca, continue to spark amid a presentation of Rio’s Prefeitura (city hall) of the new course on Wednesday, March 25th, where details about the construction process were unveiled and Mayor Eduardo Paes held a long speech in defense of the golf course.
The course for the new sport, which makes a return to the Olympic Games after last being played in 1904, is currently in the final phase of its construction. The mega-construction project is partly located in the Marapendi natural reserve in Rio’s West Zone neighborhood Barra da Tijuca and is part of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The reserve is home to various endangered flora and fauna.
Nevertheless, Mayor Eduardo Paes has defended the choice of the golf course and cited environmental studies conducted in 2007 and an environmental license obtained in 2008 as grounds for the construction.
“The golf course [in Barra da Tijuca] was not planned. It was decided a week after the election of Rio as host city. My choice was the Gávea Golf Club and the Golf Club Itanhangá, but they [the IOC] said it wasn’t possible. I had thought it would be in one of those,” he explained the choice of the new ground.
Also, apparently the International Golf Federation recommended not to have any new construction on Rio’s existing two existing golf grounds.
“It had to be a public field and with a building permit. The adaptation of Itanhangá would have cost US$25 million, and this area cost US$26 million. Here, it is close to the athletes’ village as well. So, it was decided by the Olympic Committee and the International Golf Federation that here [Barra] would be the better place.”
Countering the protesters present at the presentation of the golf course, Paes continued to emphasize that there hadn’t been any environmental violations.
“Here we have restinga [salt marsh] vegetation. We will plant 625,000 seedlings and increase the salt marsh vegetation area of 94,000 to 650,000 square meters,” Paes claimed and continued “It is nonsense, a lie, to say that an environmental crime is being committed.”
In contrast, one of the activist present at the presentation told G1 Globo that they “are killing the biodiversity and green areas here. The workers kill the capivaras [large rodents] to eat them.”
Furthermore, the “Golfe para quem?” (Golf for whom) movement stated that the environmental license Paes cited had been a preliminary Municipal License for a golf course in the Riserva Uno condominium and had nothing to do with the present Olympic construction.
Next to the ongoing protest, the construction of the golf course already had to face various legal battles, as prosecutors demanded to halt the work amid allegations of a lack of necessary environmental impact studies and other legal requirements and irregularities. The last request was rejected by a Rio judge on Tuesday, March 24th.
In another case, Mayor Eduardo Paes has been put under investigation by the state prosecutor’s office at the beginning of March in order to assess if any administrative misconduct had occurred in the deal with the golf course’ construction company Fiori Empreendimentos.
In the deal, Fiori will pay the R$60 million of construction costs for the golf course and in return gain the right to construct 23 buildings of 22 floors each in the same area as the course, the Marapendi reserve.
It is claimed that Cyrela, the developer working as partner of Fiori on the course, also was a major donor to Paes’ 2012 re-election campaign.