San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Flamingo Marina Officially Closed

FLAMINGO, Guanacaste – Yellow signs havebeen posted stamping the marina “closed.” Coast Guardofficials stand watch to make sure no one uses thewaters against court order. Boat owners and captains inthe area lament the closure of the Flamingo Marina aftermore than 15 years of operation.But the news has not brought total despair to thecommunity, on the northwest coast of Guanacaste,whose economy is based on tourism, including sportfishingand sunset cruises.While some say life in Flamingo has been changedforever and others insist they already feel the effects ofthe June 11 closure, an “understanding” between the boaters, the Coast Guard and the EnvironmentalTribunal that first ordered the marinaclosed, is expected to avert a crisis situation.SPORTFISHING, scuba diving andfishing activities will continue to providesome economic sustenance to the surroundingpopulation, at least for now. Withthe temporary crisis lessened, marina usersare now turning their attention to their permanentfate.“This is not just about the rich peoplewho own the boats, they can solve theirown problems. This is about the peoplewho travel from Santa Cruz and Cartagena,who fill the bus every morning, to workhere,” said Simión Tenorio, who owns asmall restaurante típico in the area.“It is already producing an impact.Tourists don’t like to see police. OnlyTicos have been in my restaurant allweek,” he said.BEGINNING today, all boats mustleave the marina, according to JuniorBustos, president of the Tourism Mariners’Association. Marina users were given anextra week of limited access to the marinato accommodate pre-arranged, revenue producingtrips. Many boats have alreadymoored outside the marina in the bay.In the meantime, the TourismMariners’Association has been negotiatingwith the administrative EnvironmentalTribunal for a temporary arrangement thatwould permit boats to pick up and drop offpassengers from the marina’s dock, Bustossaid.However, mooring in the insecure baywaters is less than ideal, he added.The arrangement would remain ineffect until the marina’s full operation isturned over to a private concessionaireselected by the Municipality of Santa Cruz,which is currently in charge of the marina.This concession process, which began lastyear, will take at least three more months,according to municipal officials.THE marina was originally orderedclosed by the Environmental Tribunal –part of the Environment and EnergyMinistry (MINAE) – in October 2003.At that time, the tribunal said the orderwas made in response to complaints themarina could be harming the environment(TT, Dec. 12, 2003). However last week,tribunal president Gerardo Vargas told peopleat the marina that the closure wasordered because nobody ever obtainedproper permission to operate the marina –required by a 1998 marine law.The tribunal issued another order inMarch for “the definite closure and stoppingof activities at the Flamingo Marina.”However, the marina’s operation againcontinued, until last week.MORE than 40 uniformed CoastGuard and police officers converged on thesite in the early dawn hours June 11. Thatwas the deadline given to boat owners fourdays earlier – on bulletins posted aroundthe shore – to leave the marina (TT, June11).Hundreds of boat captains and owners,dockworkers, tour operators and hotelowners joined the officers that morning, allanxiously awaiting the order to seal off themarina.Community members heckled the officersfor attempting to block access to apublic road. Early shouting matchesbetween tense marina users and CoastGuard general director Claudio Pachecoproved fruitless, and everyone agreed towait for the arrival of representatives of theEnvironmental Tribunal.NOTICEABLY absent from the morning’schaos were any representatives fromthe Municipality of Santa Cruz. Themunicipality began operating the marina inAugust 2003, when its private operator was evicted after a year and a half of lawsuitsand contamination allegations (TT,Aug. 22, 2003).The arguments continued onceEnvironmental Tribunal president Vargasand judge Carlos Briceño arrived on thescene. Although discussion grew more heatedwith the rising sun, and culminated whenVargas asked officers to remove a lawyerrepresenting some of the marina users,everything settled down right before lunch.Vargas and Brisceño said they understoodthe public’s concerns about the economiceffects of the marina’s closure on thesurrounding communities. But they addedthat if they did not close the marina, theywould be violating the law. For this reason,they agreed to negotiate the possibility oflimited access to the area in order to allowindustry-related activity to continue.“WHAT people need to understand isthe marina is closed for now, but when itreopens after all this, it will be an improvementfor the entire community,” Pachecosaid. “Everyone will be better off.”The marina docks 50-70 boats. Thefuel pumps were shut off last year, inresponse to the contamination allegations.The Municipality of Santa Cruz willselect a new business for the concession inthree months, said Mayor Pastor Gómezafter he arrived at the marina that afternoon.Before the new 10-hectare (25-acre)marina concession can be granted, a masterplan for the land surrounding the watermust be completed. In addition, the Inter-Institutional Commission for Marinas andTourism Docks (CIMAT) requires eachparty interested in the marina concessionto do a range of studies, including environmentalimpact reports, based on theirproposed projects.Seven groups have shown interest inthe concession. However, because theapplication process is expensive andlengthy, CIMAT technical secretary OscarVillalobos said he is skeptical all will ultimatelybe candidates for the concession.NEARLY all the marina users are preparedto work with a new operator, andwill comply with the concessionaire’sneeds during renovation of the marina,according to marina user BruceMcKillican, owner of Catamaran SailingAdventures.McKillican – like many people inFlamingo – still question why, if the marinahas been operating outside the law forsix years, it is being shut down a fewmonths before a new concession is awardedand it is put in full accordance with themarina law.Vargas and Briceño said last week it isa simple matter of compliance. What thegovernment is asking, is why the marinawas allowed to operate for so long, particularlyafter the October closure order.An investigation was started earlier thismonth to determine if the Municipality ofSanta Cruz illegally gave permission tosomeone to allow the marina’s continuedadministration and operation, according toSergio Valdelomar, environmental prosecutorfor the Security Ministry.(Next week: New Marina Planned forGolfito in the Southern Zone.)

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