BRAZIL, Brazil — Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office has blocked a decision to allow zip lines to be installed on Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain, saying they would damage the environment around the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Prosecutors announced the decision late Thursday, arguing that Iphan, a federal agency under the Ministry of Culture, had “illegally” licensed the project after construction had already begun in September 2022.
Now, both Iphan and the company responsible for building the ziplines are defendants in a civil lawsuit and each must pay at least US$9.5 million (50 million reais) in fines. Prosecutors gave the company 60 days to present a schedule for restoring the damaged area and to remove all structures and debris from the construction site.
Sugarloaf – known as Pao de Açucar in Portuguese – rises from the ground at the entrance to Rio Bay. In 2012, the UN agency declared it a part of the world heritage together with the other tent mountains of Rio, and years earlier the Brazilian heritage protection institute declared it a national monument.
The cable cars to the top attract hundreds of thousands of Brazilian and international tourists every year, all eager to enjoy the panorama of the vast city’s beaches and forested mountains.
In March, around 200 people gathered under Sugarcane Mountain to protest the ongoing construction of zip lines aimed at boosting tourism, claiming it would cause an “unacceptable” environmental impact.
The zipline’s four steel lines would run 755 meters (almost 2,500 feet) above the forest between Sugarloaf and Urca Hill, with riders reaching speeds of 100 km/h. The inauguration was planned for the second half of this year, and an online petition to stop the work has been signed by almost 11,000 people.
The place is also popular for sport climbing and birdwatching, and the preserved Atlantic Forest rises above the sleepy Urca district. As such, the prospect of riders buzzing the wires with a loud roar has united climbers, environmental activists and residents in opposition. It has been pointed out that UNESCO may withdraw its heritage status.
Prosecutors acted after a public interest civil lawsuit filed by Brazilian citizens had to halt construction of Sugarloaf to protect the environment and its historical and cultural heritage. Federal prosecutors also found that the zipline construction “altered the natural contours of the land by breaking down (…) and drilling the rock.”
Lift operator Parque Bondinho Pao de Açúcar, which is behind the 50 million reais ($9.5 million) zipline project, said in a statement that sound tests show that rider noise will not be heard from below and will not affect the climbing routes neither. . He said he has obtained all necessary permits and approvals to implement the project, from the National Heritage Institute to municipal authorities. He also argued that the project is capable of driving tourism to the region.
“Besides the great integration with nature, the goal is to improve the experience of our visitors and make the visit to Parque Bondinho Pao de Açucar Park even more pleasant and unforgettable,” the company says on its website.
Opponents of the zipline project have dubbed it a “castle of horrors” and expressed concern that it could be a harbinger of future interventions.
AP writer Eléonore Hughes contributed.