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Work on Rio Olympic golf course may be halted as prosecutor looks at environmental issues

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This May 13, 2014 aerial photo, shows the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course under construction in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Grass has been going down for several weeks at the course, which created an upbeat mood as golf prepares to return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. That changed Saturday, May 31, 2014 when Rio organizers confirmed that a state prosecutor could halt work on the course unless the developer shows it is following environmental regulations and other requirements under Brazilian law. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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This May 13, 2014 aerial photo, shows the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course under construction in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Grass has been going down for several weeks at the course, which created an upbeat mood as golf prepares to return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. That changed Saturday, May 31, 2014 when Rio organizers confirmed that a state prosecutor could halt work on the course unless the developer shows it is following environmental regulations and other requirements under Brazilian law. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

RIO DE JANEIRO - Like other delayed venues for the beleaguered Rio 2016 Olympics, work on the golf course has fallen behind schedule.

But grass has been going down for several weeks at the course, which has created an upbeat mood as golf prepares to return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence.

That changed Saturday when Rio organizers confirmed that a state prosecutor could halt work on the course unless the developer shows it is following environmental regulations and other requirements under Brazilian law.

Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada confirmed the inquiry on Saturday and said developers had been asked to provide documentation that would allow the work to continue.

"The state prosecutor is asking for the papers to show the work is proceeding according to the law," Andrada told The Associated Press. "We believe all the rules are being followed."

Any delay would be another blow to Rio's troubled Olympics. The International Olympic Committee has dispatched a special troubleshooter to accelerate Rio's work, and recently IOC vice-president John Coates called Rio's preparations were the "worst" in memory.

Construction on the privately developed course, located about 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Rio's famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, had been delayed by an on-going legal dispute over land ownership, protests by environmentalists centred on the loss of a wetland area, and teething problems for a sport new to Brazil.

Plans call for the course to be public after the Olympics, although it's being built in a luxury apartment development where units are selling for a minimum of $2.5 million with many priced much, much higher.

In a recent interview with AP, American golf architect Gil Hanse said the course should be fully grassed by November, and could be playable midway through 2015. He said it would not be "tournament ready" until a few months before the games begin on Aug. 5, 2016.

"I think we are as organized as we have ever been," he said. "Going forward we have to make sure we don't all of a sudden start to rush the finish work. Because ultimately the details of the finished surface are what players are going to see. You need to lavish lots of time and attention on the details of the finished surfaces."

Hanse said a test event is likely before the Olympics, although Peter Dawson, head of the International Golf Federation, suggested it might be difficult.

The course itself could be dwarfed by what's going up around it in Barra da Tijuca, the site for the Olympic Park and many games' venues.

Developers plan to build 160 luxury apartments in four 20-story towers overlooking the course. A key player in the project is Italy-born Pasquale Mauro, one of the largest landowners in the Barra area.

The opulent marble and glass units — most from 266 square meters (2,850 square feet) to 648 square meters (6,975 square feet) — are selling for between $2.5 and $7 million with completion set for a year after the Olympics end.

One building features a 1,308 square-meter (14,100 square feet) penthouse serviced by six elevators, two bedrooms for maids, and one master bedroom for the "governess."

The development will have an Italian flavour — called Riserva Golf-Vista Mare Residenziale — and is billed in sales literature as "Rio de Janeiro's most exclusive address."

Among the amenities are squash and tennis courts, swimming pools in every building, a 50-meter outdoor pool, a golf simulator, ferry service across the lagoon to the sea, a dance studio, gym and a multi-purpose court for basketball or three-man soccer.

"Besides the workout academy, there are five massage rooms and a martial arts room to help quell day-to-day tension," the sales literature says.

A spokeswoman for the Rio city government, which is supervising the private-sector project, said the course would be public for 10 years after the Olympics. It's not clear how the course will be run after that.

Hand-painted signs near the course suggest not everyone is happy.

"Golf for Whom?" reads one.

The course got other unwanted attention late last year when broad-snooted caimans that survive in a fetid lagoon nearby wandered on the course. The alligator-like creatures took refuge in ponds on the golf course, and are a common sight in the area where population growth has pushed them from a bordering mangrove swamp, which has been polluted with raw sewage from unplanned development in the area.

"They seem to be happy to co-exist with us now," Hanse said of the wildlife. "The birds have been back in droves. I've seen the alligators swimming around, but I actually haven't run into them. It's our hope they find this an acceptable habitat."

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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