San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Boats Sink Near Pacific Marina

FORMER marina operator Jim McKee could havesaid “I told you so,” but he didn’t. His worst fears aboutwhat would result when government officials closed theFlamingo Marina, on the northern Pacific coast of CostaRica, have become reality.Last week, a rainstorm off the coast of Guanacasteprovince sent McKee’s 52-foot cutter-rigged sloop,“The Shannon,” to the bottom of the sea.The boat, which he said is valued at $280,000, is oneof three that sank in the storm Oct. 22 and one of morethan 40 that were moored in the bay outside theFlamingo Marina, forced into the precarious situationwhen the Costa Rican Coast Guard and a tribunal of theEnvironment Ministry closed the marina and evicted the boats last June in the midst of legal disputes(TT, June 18).OWNERS and captains moored theboats, mostly sailing and fishing vessels,in the bay outside the marina. Followingthe dock’s closure, they used launches andpangas to bring clients from beaches totheir boats, appoximately 400 meters fromthe marina, to continue tourism-relatedbusiness such as sportfishing and sunsetcruises.Despite their efforts, tourism in thearea has fallen drastically since the marinawas closed, according to area businessowners. Many consider the marina, andthe tourism it brings, the lifeline of thecommunity.“Tourism this year has decreasedmaybe 60% from last year. You alreadysee ‘For Sale’ signs on hotels and businesses,”said Costa Rican Osmin López,member of the Tourism Mariners’Association, who owns a small sportfishingbusiness.U.S.-born businessman James“Santiago” Valentine said popular eaterythe Hillside Café, in which he has invested,has been practically “dormant” sincethe marina’s closure.“My concern is my life here, my futurehere,” he said.AFTER the storm took its toll in thepre-dawn hours, many boats sought safetyfrom the rough waters in the protectedmarina. However, despite requestingauthorization to enter the marina from theCoast Guard, they were denied permission.Many entered anyway, but all wentback out to the bay by Monday morning,according to Guillermo Arias, interimexecutive official for the Flamingo CoastGuard Station.The boats never had official permissionto be in the marina, he emphasized.Arias said last week’s storm is considerednormal weather for the rainy season.Boat owners are responsible for maintainingtheir boats during such storms, andmaking sure the equipment is workingproperly and they are not filling withwater, he said.Coast Guard legal advisor JonnyCastillo said that in cases of proven emergency,the Coast Guard is obligated to providesafe harbor to not only boats, but alsopeople. However, because this was a rainstorm,without unusually large waves, itwas not considered an emergency, he said.A handful of boats have remainedinside the marina, abandoned by theirowners during the eviction or there withspecial permission from the environmentaltribunal to make repairs.THE environmental tribunal, anadministrative court, originally orderedthe marina closed in October 2003, inresponse to allegations of water contamination.However, the facilities remainedopen and many area residents claimed economicdependence on the marina, locatedapproximately six hours northwest of SanJosé.When tribunal officials finally closedthe marina June 11, they said it wasbecause nobody ever obtained proper permissionfor its operation – required by a1998 marina law.The Municipality of Santa Cruz hadoperated the marina since August 2003,when McKee, the private operator forapproximately 20 years, was evicted afteryears of lawsuits regarding the marina’slegality and contamination allegations(TT, Aug. 22, 2003). In June, the municipalityassured the marina would reopensoon, after a new concession is granted.Boat owners vowed to make do by harboringin the bay while waiting for a solution.However, they expressed concernthat the less-protected waters of the bayleft their boats susceptible to damage instorms. Now that their concerns haveproved true, they say the municipality hasbeen slow to act and they are worriedabout the approaching tourism high season,which starts in November along withthe dry season.SANTA Cruz Mayor Pastor Gómezadmits the process to select a new concessionairefor the marina has been “very,very slow.” He told The Tico Times theyhave sought help from the central governmentto hasten the process, but havereceived none.A master plan for the concession areamust be finalized before a concession canbe granted. Gómez said this requires workby the National Institute for Housing andUrbanization (INVU).The Municipality of Santa Cruz invitedcompanies to vie for the FlamingoMarina concession contract in September2003 in an ad in the daily La Nación.Five companies submitted proposalsfor the project by the Oct. 30, 2003, deadline.At the time, officials said they hopedto select a concessionaire for the marinaproject within two months (TT, Nov. 14,2003).In July of this year, Gómez anticipateda concession would be granted byNovember (TT, July 30). This week, hetold The Tico Times he could not providean expected date. However, he did say hehoped to have good news soon.“Flamingo is supposedly one of theplaces that brings tourism to Costa Rica.But we have a closed marina. We have ahighway to Flamingo, along the coast,which is in horrible condition. And wehave seen very little effort on the part ofthe central government to help,” Gómezsaid.MEANWHILE, McKee said heworked throughout the weekend to assessthe damage and attach flotation devices inorder to pull his boat up from the oceanfloor, 25 feet below the surface, a processhe completed Tuesday. He estimated atleast $80,000 worth of damage was doneto the boat’s electrical equipment andengine.Others, including the mayor, expressedconcern for the possible fuel contaminationcaused by such accidents.“Contamination has been our concernall along,” he said, pointing to the originalreason the marina was ordered shutdown.

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