Just like Disney World — again?

Few things will infuriate Panama City’s environmentalists — and the neighbors — more than any suggestion that might be construed as a proposal for a theme park atop Ancon Hill.

“Just like Disney World” — again?

by Eric Jackson

The idea of a cable car to the top of Ancon Hill (along with the inevitable facilities for tourists) is back and generating heat again. The Varela administration has issued a decree to study the broad subject about what to do about the forest fragment hill that towers above Panama City, the expected business wonks are talking about tourism opportunities in the expected shallow ways and the usual folks are aghast. But wait, cautions the Ministry of the Environment! It’s just a mandate to set up a committee to study various ideas, without any speficfic thing in mind.

Executive Decree Number 6 was issued on February 13 but did not come to public notice until early March. Buried in a long edition of the Gaceta Oficial, it mandates a committee with representatives of the Ministry of the Environment, the Panama City local government, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Panama Tourism Authority, the non-governmental National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON) and the Quarry Heights Residents Association. The mandate is to come up with a sustainable tourism development plan for the hilltop national park, the limits of which are being surveyed and redefined by the Ministry of the Environment and people from Panama Technological University.

Since late last year cars have been banned from entering the park. The states reason why automobile traffic can go no further than the park entrance gate is that the soil under or along parts of the road is so unstable that there is a landslide risk. Most of the neighbors in Quarry Heights have always disliked the traffic through their streets and up to the park. To go to the top of the hill one must now walk, either from the park entrance just past the residential area of Quarry Heights or by walking up the stairs that start near the back of Mi Pueblito Antillano.

Leave it to a business tycoon — or a scion of one, anyway — to propose the cable car. In this case it was Alfredo Motta. At least he had the sense not to openly propose a hilltop theme park — “just like Disney World” — to be connected to a cruiser port at the end of the Amador Causeway, as happened the last time that cable car idea surfaced. On the previous occasion the mayor of Panama City at the time, Juan Carlos Navarro, refused to issue permits to let the plan proceed and that killed it.

Environmental activists and a faction of the neighbors have been quick to raise the banners of opposition. The Comite Pro-Defensa del Cerro Ancon, a coalition of groups from the last time around, is revived and mobilizing.


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