San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Landfill Proposal Criticized

WITH visions of dump trucks roaring past theirhomes, fears of pathogens oozing into their water supplyand phantom whiffs of trash already imagined in the air,residents of Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, are feelinga collective sense of déjà vu.A proposal is once again on the table to build a landfillapproximately 15 km outside the community.As they did when similar proposals were made – anddenied – in 1995 and 2003, some Ciudad Colón residentsare wasting no time in preparing their fight against the privatelandfill proposal by Parque Industrial Jateo, S.A,which is being evaluated by the Technical Secretariat of theEnvironment Ministry (SETENA).PROJECT developer Alberto González and his associateRamiro Sánchez say they are optimistic this time around theproposal will be approved. They told The Tico Times theyhave learned from past rejections, and, with the help of anexperienced U.S. firm, have created a completely safe landfill.While the proposal currently under study consists of4.6 hectares, it is just the first cell in the first phase of thefull project, named Jateo Industrial Park. The entire landfillcould eventually encompass 236 hectares and last 125years, developers say.Sánchez says the Jateo landfill offers a long-term solutionto trash problems that have plagued Costa Rica for years andmay get worse as the country’s other dumps are filled.González agreed.“The rivers have turned into dumps; the streets of San José have turned into dumps,” he said.“The situation in the country is critical;it is serious; it is close to an ecological catastrophe,”Sánchez said, adding that theJateo landfill would have “absolutely nonegative environmental impact.”THIS attitude is exactly what has arearesidents criticizing the technical studies inthe landfill’s environmental-impact report(EIR) and worried the approval processmay be hurried.“The project does not comply withtechnical requirements. Its technical studieswere done all wrong,” said opponentFlora Ovares, who lives in El Rodeo, 15minutes from Ciudad Colón.While the EIR concludes the landfillwill have low impact on subterraneanwaters, surface waters, soil and air quality,opponents claim otherwise.They say the groundwater studies areinadequate and three rivers – the Virilla,Picagres and Jaris – pass through the proposedsite. Contamination could also occurif the landfill’s plastic lining is ripped duringan earthquake along the fault line thatruns through the site, opponents claim.Furthermore, the community of Cordellies just 800 meters away, within the landfill’swatershed, and its water supply willbe contaminated by polluted run off,Ovares alleged.Developers estimate the total populationwithin the immediate area at 2,900,including the communities of Picagres, 2.5km away, and Piedras Negras, 4.5 km fromsite.THE proposed landfill site is also inclose proximity to the El Rodeo ProtectiveZone – approximately 400 hectares of primaryand secondary forest donated byOvares’ grandfather, Cruz Rojas Bennett,in 1981 to the government of Costa Rica.Boasting 250 tree species, 150 birdspecies and 50 animal species, biologistshave reported seeing three-toed sloths,white-faced capuchin monkeys, toucans,anteaters, collared peccaries and armadillosin the reserve.Biologists have called the ecosystem“fragile” and worry about the effects of allcategories of trash piling up 10 km away.The protected property is managed byand home to the University for Peace,whose rector Martin Lees wrote a letter toSETENA saying the university would beforced to stop expansion plans and move ifthe landfill is approved and an access routeis allowed through the community of ElRodeo.THE possibility of an access routethrough Ciudad Colón and El Rodeo is oneof the main points of contention in the project.Not only would it negatively impactthe protected zone, opponents say, it wouldalso decrease property values in the areaand litter the road with “fugitive trash” thatfalls out of trucks.Safe flying could also be put at risk,opponents say, as the proposed landfill liesdirectly below flight-landing routes for thecountry’s main airport, Juan SantamaríaInternational Airport, 19 km from the site.Birds that flock to the dump could interferewith planes.JATEO Industrial Park developers,however, say El Rodeo and Ciudad Colónhave nothing to worry about.They stand by their studies, which theysay were performed by an interdisciplinarygroup of scientists. Though they admitthese scientists are not experienced withlandfills, they say “no experience exists inCosta Rica.”For experience, the developers lastOctober forged a “strategic alliance” withU.S. company Bulk Express, which operatesa landfill in Florida, Sánchez said.“We follow the standards of the (U.S.)Environmental Protection Agency,” hesaid.Furthermore, Sánchez said they havemade a “formal promise” to the Municipalityof Mora, aka Ciudad Colón, thatroads through Ciudad Colón and El Rodeowill not be used as access routes, “underany circumstances.”Any trucks – municipal or private –that attempt to enter the landfill using thatroute will be rejected, Sánchez said.INSTEAD, the developers are countingon the completion of one of two majorhighway improvement projects for the project’sviability.The first option would be the constructionof the much-anticipated highway fromSan José to the Pacific Port of Caldera, aplan three decades in the making (TT, Jan.23, 2004), and currently stalled in the concessionprocess.The second option would be majorimprovements and widening of nationalroute 136, a small road than runs from LaGarita, west of Alajuela, south to Picagres.These projects are the responsibility ofthe government, Sánchez said.Sánchez said area communities, whichopponents say are threatened by the landfillproposal, would benefit from thisimproved infrastructure.They would also benefit from theapproximately 200 permanent jobs thelandfill would create, he added.DEVELOPERS Gónzalez andSánchez would not speculate as to howlong the first proposed 4.6-hectare cell –which would actually consist of only twohectares of fill – would last.“It depends on demand and the amountof trash,” Sánchez said.However, they do forecast the entirelandfill project would consist of five 25-year stages, lasting a total of 125 years.They are currently seeking approval foronly the first cell and say they are financiallyready to invest the $2.4 million inonly this part. Profits would be reinvested,making the landfill self-sustaining.This 125-year estimate is based on thereception of an average of 1,500 tons oftrash a day. The greater metropolitan area(GAM), which includes San José and surroundingcities, produces an estimated3,500 tons of trash a day, according toSánchez.Rosaura Cascante, secretary for theMora Municipal Council, said they haveonly seen a presentation for the proposedJateo Industrial Park in February, andhave begun no formal discussion oranalysis.If SETENA approves the landfill (officialswould give no indication as to when adecision will be made, saying only theymust still hold a public hearing) the projectmust also be approved by the Ministry ofPublic Health and the Municipal Council.OVARES recognizes the pressure onthe government to find a solution to thecountry’s trash problems.“Ten years ago we won this battle, butwe didn’t propose anything to solve theproblem. Now we want to help make thesolution, to propose an answer to get ridof this ghost once and for all,” she said.Opponents say the government islooking too much to private investors tosolve the problem it should be doing onits own. They call for a study by professionalsto evaluate the trash problemnationwide.Participants in a workshop on trashmanagement held in January, organized bythe Institute for Municipal Development(IFAM) and Japanese InternationalCooperation Agency (JICA), came to theconclusion that Costa Rica’s policies ontrash management are 30 years old anddangerously outdated.A report was published after the workshopencouraging Costa Rica to establish astrategic and comprehensive waste managementplan that focuses on the longterm. It suggests officials develop a newtrash management law and, to do so, studylaws in Mexico and Panama.REPORTS have been mixed on theremaining life in the Río Azul landfill,some saying it has only two years left.People have talked about the impendingclosure of the more than 30-year-old RíoAzul for a decade, and its lifespan is regularlyextended.In addition to Río Azul, a landfill nearthe community of La Carpio, west of SanJosé, accepts a large amount of CentralValley trash. The opening of the privatelyoperated La Carpio landfill in 2000 wasalso highly protested (TT, Nov. 24, 2000),but at the time was considered the solutionfor the country’s garbage woes.The Association for the SustainableDevelopment of Mora, which is leadingthe landfill fight, has been working to reactivatethe environmental committee of theMora Municipal Council, which they hopewill work with other area municipalities tofind a regional solution to the waste problem.In Costa Rica, municipal governmentsare legally obliged to collect trashand dispose of it. Residents in municipalitiesthroughout the country have complainedand protested in the past year forlack of trash collection and disposal (TT,Jan. 28).Some environmentalists say multiplesmaller landfills, with more direct jurisdictionby municipalities, would lead to betterincentives for recycling, something doneby only a few municipalities in Costa Rica(see separate article).

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