San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Monteverde Water Concession Investigated

THE controversial construction of awater pipeline by private businesses,designed to draw 12.65 liters of water persecond from a stream in the mountain communityof Monteverde, has been suspendedfor a month while the Ombudsman’sOffice investigates possible irregularities.“The next month will be dedicated tothe investigation of two cases regardingthis project – one for possible environmentalviolations and one to examine the validityof all permits granted,” OmbudsmanJosé Manuel Echandi said this week.Echandi traveled to Monteverde lastweek to attend a five-hour meeting withmembers of Rogumeca S.A., owned byseven Monteverde residents who weregranted the water concession, and communityresidents who oppose the project.The director of the EnvironmentMinistry’s Water Department, José MiguelZeledón, the Minister of Public Works andTransport (MOPT), Randall Quirós, andthe director of the National SubterraneanWater and Irrigation Service (SENARA),Sergio Salas, also attended the meeting.OPPOSING residents believe theamount of water extracted will not be sustainableand might be used in the concessionaires’hotels and businesses rather thanto irrigate their farms – somethingRogumeca representatives vehemently deny.The Ministry of the Environment andEnergy (MINAE) granted the water concessionfor irrigation of grasslands andcrops that include lettuce, tomatoes andaromatic herbs.Echandi said his office’s investigationwill evaluate more than 400 documentsgathered by Monteverde residents as evidenceboth for and against the concession.Johnny Guzmán, owner of Johnny’sPizzeria in Monteverde and head ofRogumeca, said suspension of the waterproject is a great loss for his group,which has invested an estimated ¢39 million($85,000) through a loan fromBanco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago tofinance the project.“OUR loss is not just monetary. Wehave been victims of aggression andrumors; flyers have been circulating inthe area, telling tourists not to stay athotels belonging to Rogumeca membersbecause we are hurting the environment,”Guzmán said, adding that they are consideringfiling a lawsuit against the residentswhose protests prompted suspensionof their project.“Legally, everything is in order, wehave all the necessary permits, and we toocome from Monteverde families of astrong conservationist background. We arethinking of filing a lawsuit for damagesand perjury, to repay the losses that camewith suspension of the project – for theconstruction company, labor and machinery,”Guzmán said.Danilo Zamora, president of theMonteverde Development Association,said concerned residents have faith theOmbudsman’s Office investigation will bethorough and successful.“WE are now indulging in the luxury ofsleep, after weeks of sleepless nights,”Zamora said, referring to environmentalistswho stood all night in front of backhoes inlate January to prevent workers from diggingditches for the pipeline (TT, Jan. 28).Concession opponents can now “take abreak” while the investigation is underway, Zamora added.The controversial water project wasinitiated five years ago when the businessowners of Rogumeca discovered theNational Subterranean Water and IrrigationService (SENARA) offers support in thedesign and supervision of construction forirrigation projects.The first Monteverde resident to takeaction against the project, Belmar Hotelowner Vera Zeledón, filed a complaint atthe Ombudsman’s Office in late 2003 andan injunction against the EnvironmentMinistry’s Water Department and theMonteverde Municipality, which wasrejected by the Constitutional Chamberof the Supreme Court (Sala IV) in 2003.Rogumeca obtained the concessionfrom the Environment Ministry inSeptember 2004.

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