San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Everyone Agrees: Marina Will Reopen

THE Flamingo Marina will reopen.It’s just a matter of time.However, what happens between nowand then is in the hands of various governmentministries, the Municipality of SantaCruz and those willing to fight for a solution.Since the marina was shut down inJune, users and local business leaders havebeen working to arrange temporary accessto a dock to allow sportfishing, diving andsunset cruise operations to continue in thearea until a new operator for the marina isselected.IN the meantime, they are beingpatient – and creative. Tour operators havebeen using small launches and pangas tobring clients from beaches to their boats,now moored in the bay.So far, the Tourism Mariners’Association has been successful in discouragingthe 50 to 70 boats that callFlamingo home from docking in otherareas, according to president JuniorBustos.After more than 15 years of operation,the marina was closed June 11 by a tribunalof the Environment Ministry. Theclosure order originally came in October2003, in response to allegations of pollution.However, activity continued at themarina and tribunal representatives saidlast month it was being closed becausenobody ever obtained proper permissionfor its operation – required by a 1998marina law.ALTHOUGH discouraged by the closure,boaters received good news earlierthis month that the Santa Cruz MunicipalCouncil is on their side.The council sent a letter to MayorPastor Gómez, delegating him by unanimousvote to work with the Ministries ofEnvironment, Tourism, Transportation andHealth, and the Environmental Tribunal, toopen a municipal pier in order to “mitigatethe social and economic impact” of themarina’s closure.Goméz said he has begun conversationswith these agencies about opening a“provisional pier,” but nothing has beenauthorized.THE council also directed Gómez toappeal to the Mixed Institute for Social Aidfor temporary subsidies to help familiesaffected by the marina’s closure.The Costa Rican Tourism Institute estimatesclosure of the marinacould cause the loss of 2,075total jobs. Of these, 377 aredirectly related to tourism and1,698 are complementaryactivities related to maintenanceand commerce.Simión Tenorio, whoowns a small restaurant in thearea, said every day busloadsof workers come from the surroundingcommunities towork in tourism-related businessesin Flamingo.A municipal dock wouldserve the boaters and theirclientele for now. But it is onlya temporary solution. Boatscannot stay permanentlymoored in the bay, where theyare more vulnerable toinclement weather and burglaries,according to marina userBruce McKillican, owner ofCatamaran Sailing Adventures.McKillican and his fellow boaterswould like to see a marina concessionselected as soon as possible. They areready to comply with concessionaire’sneeds during renovation of the marina.The municipality has been in charge ofthe marina for nearly a year, since concessionaireJames McKee was evicted aftermore than a year and a half of lawsuits andpollution allegations (TT, Aug. 22, 2003).Mayor Goméz said a Master Plan for inand around the concession area will becompleted early next month. This willallow the selection of a concessionairewithin two months, assuming interestedparties have completed the applicationprocess.Interested concessionaires must submita series of scientific and economic-feasibilitystudies to the InstitutionalCommission for Marinas and TourismDocks (CIMAT). CIMAT will review theapplications and pass those that have metthe requirements on to the municipality,which will make the decision.The Tourism Mariners’ Association isinterested in operating the marina itself.It’s supported by the The Tropical ScienceCenter, particularly with the required scientificstudies.Four other groups are interested in theconcession: Commercial Tradewinds,Desarrollos Nau-Tico, Empresas MarítimasMesse S.A., and ServiciosMarítimos de Flamingo S.A.BECAUSE each party has its own planfor the marina, each must do its own environmentalimpact study. Because the studiescost between $50,000 and $80,000,some could drop out of the race before itreally begins, according to CIMAT technicalsecretary Oscar Villalobos.Two once-interested companies havealready walked away from the process.“The Municipality in Santa Cruz has afocus for the project that we do not share,”said Mauricio Campos, legal representativefor Palmar Nabuco, S.A., which isinvolved in the Los Sueños marina inHerradura, north of Jacó.“We don’t want to waste any moretime and energy, the project isn’t goinganywhere,” said Armando Guardia, legalrepresentative for Inmobiliaria AralguaS.S. “The marina is a disaster, and theauthorities don’t know what they aredoing.”“The municipality is very confused,”agreed Guillermo Sánchez, legal advisorfor Empresas Marítimas Messe S.A. “Theyhave not given clear instructions on how toproceed.”HOWEVER, Messe is still interestedin the concession. The company is madeup of primarily U.S. investors and ownsproperty in the area that will eventually bedeveloped.Sánchez estimates completing theapplication process will require a totalinvestment of between $300,000 and$450,000.Ultimate investment in the marina’sdevelopment could range from $10 millionto $20 million. Most of the applicantsare proposing a mid-size, 200-300slip marina.Regardless of who gets the concession,users are hoping the proposal will improvethe marina, but not create an identity crisis.A copy of the Los Sueños Marina is notwhat Flamingo users are looking for,McKillican said.THE Flamingo Marina project wasoriginally spearheaded in 1983 by U.S.developer Ray Osborne, who obtained thegovernment concession to build the country’sfirst marina.Osborne died in an accident in 1987,leaving construction to flounder.In 1989 McKee took over the concession.The following year he was sued bythe Environment Ministry, which said hewas in violation of maritime law and couldnot construct within 50 meters of theshoreline.McKee claimed construction hadbegun before the maritime law went intoeffect, and the project could be grandfatheredin. He won the suit, but not until1995 (TT, Feb. 12, 1999).Years followed of back-and-forth disputebetween the marina and local governmentofficials, until in January 2003 theEnvironment Ministry ordered the marinaclosed, alleging pollution, safety violationsand insufficient lighting (TT, Jan. 24,2003).Eight months later, McKee was evictedand the municipality took control of themarina.

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