San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Flamingo Marina Moves Forward... at Snail’s Pace

PROGRESS is finally being made inthe slow-moving effort to select a new privateoperator for the Flamingo Marina, butboat owners won’t see an end any timesoon to their troubles operating without themarina they were kicked out of last June.Officials are putting the final toucheson the marina’s master plan, which delineatesthe marina’s boundaries and developmentpossibilities. It should be completedby the end of the month.With the master plan ready, the handfulof businesses interested in operatingthe marina will be able to complete theirproposals and present them to the Inter-Institutional Commission for Marinas andTourism Docks (CIMAT) for approval.The Municipality of Santa Cruz, whichhas jurisdiction over the project, is alsohammering out the details of the rules andtimeline of how selection of the new operatorwill proceed.BUT this is just the beginning.The marina proposals must includevarious technical scientific and economic feasibilitystudies as well as an environmental-impact study that must be presentedto the National Technical Secretariat ofthe Environment Ministry (SETENA).Once the reports are submitted by theseven parties interested in the concession,CIMAT and SETENA will begin thelengthy evaluation process. During theprocess, the documents are returned to theinterested operators with questions.If the proposals receive the requiredstamps of approval, they are handed overto the municipality, which will make thefinal selection on the future operator.Santa Cruz Mayor Pastor Gómez saidmunicipal officials are in the process ofsetting a time limit by which they mustreceive approved proposals in order toqualify for consideration.“It’s hard to put a time on thesethings,” he said. “But if my dreams arefulfilled, we will have a very good panoramain four months of who the new operatorwill be,” he said.MARINA users have heard similarpromises in the past. In June 2004, whenthe marina was shut down by the government,Gómez ambitiously said a new operatorwould be selected by October of thatyear. In December 2004, Gómez made thesame projection for this month.Many marina users have come toblame the municipality for its inaction notonly in the selection of a new operator butalso in reopening the marina they say theydesperately need.“The municipality has done nothing tohelp us,” said Junior Bustos, president ofthe marina’s Tourism Mariners’ Association.The association has filed a complaintwith the Goicoechea administrativeappeals court in an effort to get the marina– shut down last June by the government –reopened during the lengthy concessionprocess.A court decision is pending.IN the meantime, boat owners whowere kicked out of the marina will continuestruggling to keep their sportfishing,snorkeling and sunset cruise businessesalive and somehow take advantage of theexplosive number of tourists inGuanacaste these days.Left without a place to dock their boatsand pick up passengers, boat owners andoperators have been making do usinglaunch boats to travel between the beachand their boats moored in the bay.“Clients don’t like it at all. They complainthey have to get wet to get in thelaunch boat. Sunset cruises return afterdark. Sometimes older clients can’t do it,”said Virgilio Guido, a member of theTourism Mariners’ Association.Bruce McKillican, owner ofCatamaran Sailing Adventures, agreed thelack of a dock and marina has createdmyriad problems.“The rough water makes it harder tochange oil. It’s much harder to keep theboat clean. We have to use the dinghies tobring fuel to the boats. I can now only doone trip a day, and before I did two. Plus,for sure, the fueling process is causingmore pollution,” he said.Despite the problems, McKillican saidhe has recently purchased a second boat totake advantage of tourism demand, addingthat although the Flamingo Marina isclosed, there is nowhere else nearby todock his boats.ACCUSATIONS of contaminationhave plagued the marina for years andwere the reason given when the EnvironmentalTribunal of the EnvironmentMinistry ordered the marina closed inOctober 2003.Despite this order, activity continued atthe marina. When it was finally shut downin June 2004, tribunal representativeschanged their tune and attributed its closureto lack of proper permission for operation– required by a 1998 marina law.This explanation infuriated owners andoperators who docked their boats at the marina,saying it had been in continuous operationfor more than 15 years and predatesthe marina law (TT, June 18, 2004). Theyalso denied allegations of contamination.THE marina’s legal troubles and pollutionaccusations began long before last June.The marina was spearheaded by U.S.developer Ray Osborne in 1983. However,his accidental death in 1987 left the projectto flounder.In 1989 James McKee took over constructionand operation. The followingyear he was sued by the EnvironmentMinistry, which said he was in violation ofmaritime law and could not constructwithin 50 meters of the shoreline.McKee claimed construction hadbegun before the maritime law went intoeffect, and the project could be grand-fatheredin. He won the suit, but not until1995 (TT, Feb. 12, 1999).Years of dispute followed until McKeewas evicted in 2003, and the municipalitytook over the marina’s operation (TT, Aug.22, 2003).ALTHOUGH the marina has seenproblems in the past, nothing has been asserious as the current situation, accordingto marina user and vacationer Will Romero.“I have been coming here for as manyyears as the marina has been open, and Ihave chartered this boat for the last sevenyears,” Romero said after getting off alaunch boat and wading to the beach duringa recent sailing trip. “And now look atme. I’m standing here stuck in the mud.”Romero, like many marina users, questionedthe government’s commitment tothe marina’s future.While most boat owners are waitingout the storm, the area has already begunto see losses with the closure. In February,the 250-passenger luxury Windstar cruiseship began docking at Playas del Coco.The ship formerly stopped in the FlamingoMarina (see article on page S-12).

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