San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tamarindo Beach Boom Lacks Infrastructure, (Part two in a two-part series)

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Thebeauty and excitement of this beach resortcommunity has landed it on the pages ofVogue Magazine and in the spotlight of EEntertainment Television; yet that popularity,and the accompanying developmentbonanza, has brought with it traffic jams,parking nightmares and threats that cleanwater for drinking and swimming will soonbe unavailable.As the situation becomes more critical,some Tamarindo residents are calling for abuilding moratorium until infrastructureproblems – which even government officialssay are on the brink of chaos – can beresolved (TT, Jan. 7).CONSTRUCTIONprojects ofluxury condos, full-servicemalls andhotels have doubledin the past fiveyears. Yet the communitylacks asewage treatmentplant, a reliablesource of potablewater and sufficientoversight of newdevelopment projects,according tothe Municipality of Santa Cruz, which islocated approximately 37 kilometersinland and has jurisdiction over the area.“There are three different watersources in Tamarindo, problems withgarbage collection – it is privatizedthrough two different companies, and onlyone (unpaved) road in and one road out.We are bursting at the seams, and there ismuch more coming,” said longtime residentJerry Hirsch, a U.S. citizen and memberof the Tamarindo Community ImprovementAssociation.ALTHOUGH sometimes in conflictregarding the building boom, municipalofficials, Tamarindo natives and longtimeresidents are all scrambling to find a balancebetween the development expected tobring jobs and wealth, and the preservationof the area’s beauty and character that madeTamarindo attractive in the first place.The improvement association andSanta Cruz Mayor Pastor Gómez hope2005 will bring the formalization of a planto construct a wastewater treatment plantthrough a pioneering concession model.Gómez is also optimistic a largermunicipal budget this year will permit theRío Piedra to be tapped as a permanentpotable water source, allow the hiring ofmore engineers to oversee developmentprojects, and result in overall increasedinvestment in Tamarindo infrastructure.“THE problem is they opened up the(Liberia) airport to international flights,welcomed all this tourism, but did so withoutchecking first if they had the infrastructure,”said resident Bruce McKillican,who is originally from the United States.While international flights haveprompted the latest development boom,foreign interest in Tamarindo began 20years ago, natives say.“Back then, there were just a few familieshere, but then the Americans begancoming with their famous green bills,” saidCosta Rican taxi driver Feliciano Cedeño,adding that his father was one of the first tosell property to foreigners.Costa Rican Alvaro Padilla, owner ofMinisuper Las Palmeras, said his fatherbuilt one of the first homes in Tamarindomore than 50 years ago“IT is us who are selling Costa Rica,but because we are living day to day. Wedon’t think about the future here,” Padillasaid, adding that he worries neither do foreigninvestors, who now come from allover the world to develop the area.Hirsch agrees.“Developers build retail units in mallsand sell all of them, condo-style. Then theyleave. They couldn’t care less about theeffects, about thewater, about thetraffic,” he said.Santa Cruz municipalengineerMiguel Torres, however,says whilesome developerswant to recover theirinvestment rapidly,and can be blamedfor some problems,others want toaddress infrastructureissues.Those experienced in real estate developmentsee the benefits of long-terminvestment, pointed out realtor LisaSimmons of RE/MAX Ocean Surf Realty.“Some investors recognize that this iswhat Maui and Kauai (in the U.S. stateHawaii) looked like 30 years ago,” she said.MOST Tamarindo natives see bothsides of the development coin. While theylament the rapid change, particularly withoutforesight, they appreciate the benefitsdevelopment has brought.“Before, Tamarindo was very poor,we all had to leave to find sources ofwork. But now, people come here towork,” Cedeño said.In addition to jobs, residents say developmenthas produced a substantial source ofincome for the government through taxes.They question, then, why so little hasbeen reinvested in the area.“Tamarindo gives fruit and fruit andfruit, but no one cares if there is a fungus inthe roots that is killing it,” Cedeño said.CONTRARY to popular belief,Tamarindo is not producing millions forthe municipality, according to MayorGómez.Businesses who have been grantedconcessions to operate in the MaritimeZone – the first 200 meters of land fromthe high tide line that are legally publicland – have not been properly paying thefees they are required, Gómez said.“Many people are paying ¢900,¢1,500 ($2- $3.28) for a concession whenthey should be paying ¢1 million($2,188),” he said.The municipality is in the process ofimproving the concession-fee collectionsystem, Gómez said.In addition, at ¢1.2 billion ($2.6 million),the municipality’s budget for 2005 isdouble what it was for 2004, which willhelp address the situation in Tamarindo,the mayor said.FUNDS will be used to hire a team ofat least three new engineers – replacingTorres who will retire in April after 20years – to better study and oversee newdevelopment projects, Gómez said.Among other things, this will ensureadequate parking areas are constructed forprojects – something developers oftenavoid because of the rising cost of land.“On the main street at some points itlooks like San José with traffic jams, andsometimes you have to wait half an hour topass through the center of town,” said GreitDepypere, president of the improvementassociation.THE association also hopes to establisha community board to review all newprojects.Depypere is optimistic a joint effortbetween the association, the municipality,National Water and Sewer Service (AyA)and state-owned Banco Nacional willaddress the community’s most threateningproblem – wastewater.Under the proposal, a Banco Nacionalloan will fund a private company to constructa treatment plant for the community.The loan would be repaid by waterusers based on their water use, as part oftheir regular monthly water bill.“So we have a way of guaranteeing theloan will be paid and a way of guaranteeingall the neighbors of Tamarindo are connectedto the wastewater system, otherwisethey don’t get drinkable water,” saidDepypere, who hopes to have the plantbuilt by 2007. The improvement associationis leading the effort.The source of drinking water will alsobecome more stable, Mayor Gómez said.The municipality is working with theNational Subterranean Water and IrrigationService (SENARA) and AyA to divertwater from the Río Piedra and use it as asource for potable water for people fromBrasilito to Tamarindo.“Tamarindo cannot keep growing if wedon’t solve two very important things –wastewater treatment and drinking water. . .2005 will be a year we will be able to startmaking more infrastructure investments inTamarindo,” he said.

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