San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Proposed Municipal Landfill in Northwest Central Valley Town Prompts Opposition

RESIDENTS of the town of Rosario,northwest of San José near Naranjo, arespeaking out against the proposed constructionof a landfill at a municipality-ownedformer rock quarry located aboveRío Colorado, near the Rafael IglesiasBridge.“Our village is numb, angry and frustrated,”wrote Rosario resident JohannaBresnan in an e-mail to The Tico Times.Bresnan, owner of the Vista del VallePlantation Inn, described Rosario, a townof approximately 3,000 residents, asNaranjo’s “unwanted relative.”Last month, some residents’ oppositionescalated to the point that they tied themselvesto the machinery brought into thequarry in hopes of impeding the landfill’sprogress.A group of 10 residents also hired alawyer to file a lawsuit before theConstitutional Chamber of the SupremeCourt (Sala IV) against the Municipality ofNaranjo, alleging environmental violations,and against the Technical Secretariat of theEnvironment Ministry (SETENA), allegingthe agency violated residents’ right to aresponse when they presented their complaintsto officials in late February.IN late February, the NaranjoMunicipality brought machinery to the formerquarry, known as Tajo Zacarías, to“stabilize the slopes and arrange rocks toform steps,” said Xenia Lozano, chief ofthe municipality’s environmental department,told The Tico Times.Asked if the procedure was part of theconstruction of the municipality’s landfill,Lozano merely repeated her statement.Rosario residents took the advancingmachines to mean an imminent transformationfrom quarry to landfill and resortedto desperate means to prevent it.“We decided to physically stop theirmachines,” said Enrique Núñez, a volunteerwith the Environment Ministry’s areaNatural Resources Vigilance Committee(COVIRENA) and one of the 10 residentswho filed the Sala IV lawsuit. He lives 500meters from the quarry.LOZANO told The Tico Times she hasthe names of the dozen or so landfill opponents,including Núñez, who “invaded themunicipality’s private property” and whomthe municipality plans to sue for usurpation.“Even though these machines – whichfinally stopped their work in mid-Aprilbecause of the neighbors’ opposition –were sitting motionless at the quarry, westill have to pay the company around¢300,000 (approximately $630) this monthor else we will be sued,” said NaranjoMayor Mario Solís, adding that this moneycomes out of the pockets of Naranjo taxpayers.ALVARO Sagot, an environmentallawyer hired by landfill opponents, viewsthe situation differently.“The municipality did not wait toobtain a permit from SETENA to beginconstruction of the landfill,” said Sagot,who has filed a complaint about this beforethe regional office of the Environment andEnergy Ministry (MINAE) in neighboringGrecia.“Initial damage to the quarry’s scenicbeauty has already been done,” he added.SETENA officials were not availablefor comments this week.According to Lozano, the municipalitystarted work on the quarry with permissionfrom MINAE’s Geology and MiningDepartment, which oversees quarries, andno other permit is required at this time.GABRIELA Páez, legal advisor forthe Geology and Mining Department, saidthe permit her department granted theNaranjo Municipality is not to begin workon a landfill, but for a technical closure ofthe quarry.Not only did the department give themunicipality a two-month deadline – untilApril 22 – to stop using Tajo Zacarías as aquarry, it did so because the slopes wereinspected and found unstable, Páez toldThe Tico Times.She said the quarry’s instability doesnot necessarily mean it should not be usedas a landfill, and added that decision is onea qualified environmental inspector mustmake.Environmental lawyer Sagot claims themunicipality was forced to accelerate constructionof the landfill because theEnvironmental Tribunal, an administrativecourt of MINAE, recently ordered closureof the San Rafael municipal garbage dump.He alleges that’s why municipal officialsdid not wait for SETENA’s authorizationto enter the quarry with their machines.ACCORDING to Lozano, however, the Municipality of Naranjo is only complyingwith instructions from the Ministryof Public Health and is not under any formof pressure.“For sanitary reasons, the ministry hasordered replacement of all garbage dumpsthroughout the country with landfills. Themunicipality is merely complying with itsorders,” she told The Tico Times.The ministry, which according toHealth Minister Rocío Sáenz “is trying toadvance with an improved waste-managementsystem,” confirmed that since 1992,they have been implementing a NationalWaste Management Plan that aims to eliminategarbage dumps throughout the countryand replace them with regional landfillsand recycling centers.“Garbage disposed of in dumps is nottreated, it is merely ‘dumped,’ producing aseries of liquids that are extremelyunhealthy,” explained Bernardo Monge,director of environmental protection at theHealth Ministry.FOR now, the municipality continues todump the 22 tons of garbage it collects eachweek in Naranjo into San Rafael, a measureSagot said “mocks the EnvironmentalTribunal” by defying its closure order.Environmental Tribunal presidentCarlos Briceño was not available for commentsthis week.Municipal officials, meanwhile, claimthe Health Ministry allows them to continuedumping the town’s trash in San Rafael.It is not clear how much trash would bedisposed of at the new landfill in Rosario;municipal officials say the matter is stillunder study.THE concern of residents such asBresnan, whose hotel is located approximately100 meters from the quarry, is thatthe landfill will hurt tourism in an area thatrelies heavily on this activity. Restaurants,hotels, bungee jumping and other areaattractions are all nearby.“A landfill would definitely affect ourbusiness,” said José Alfaro, brother ofCarlos Alfaro, owner of Costa Rica BungeeAdventures. “Our bungee spot is off theRafael Iglesias Bridge, about 300 metersfrom the quarry. Clients are not going to likethe smell or the sight of garbage, andbesides, the landfill will probably contaminatethe river below and the surroundingnatural landscape,” he said.Sagot said the quarry has not beenused in years, allowing for a reemergenceof biodiversity as the forest regeneratesand birds return to build their nests.“THE sad part is this proposed dumpingarea is less than few hundred meters from anelementary school, and of course there aremany homes surrounding it,” Bresnan added.Monge, from the Health Ministry, saidthat among the requirements for constructionof a landfill is that it will not be in thevicinity of schools or homes.“It is normal for neighbors to feel thisterror for landfills. They are flooded bymemories of dumps filled with flies,”Monge added. “But this is no longer thecase, think of Río Azul and La Carpio…you do not hear members of these landfillcommunities complain.”HOWEVER, in June of last year, thecomplaints of protesting residents of theimpoverished neighborhood of La Carpioin west San José against Canadian garbagecompany EBI BERTHIER, which managesa landfill near La Carpio, turned intoa bloody riot during which 30 people werewounded, seven by gun shots.Protestors alleged EBI had failed tofulfill promises it made to the communitywhen work began on the landfill, called theSan José Environmental Technology Park,in 2000 (TT, June 4, 11, 2004).More recently, residents of the westernsuburb of Ciudad Colón have voiced theiropposition to a landfill project proposed byParque Industrial Jateo, S.A., (TT, April 8).THE problem, according to municipalspokeswoman Lozano, is lack of understanding.“There is no education and no culturesurrounding waste management in thiscountry. The Ministry of Health will nolonger allow dumps, and dumps are differentfrom landfills,” Lozano said.In the meantime, the lawsuit againstSETENA and the Naranjo municipalityfor allegedly evading their environmentalduties has been accepted for review bythe Sala IV.

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