Leaders Grapple with Trash Dispute

July 8, 2005

THE company that runs the capital’sonly garbage disposal site, the destinationof more than 430 metric tons of trash collecteddaily from the streets of San José,says it plans to cease operations Sept. 30 –as many as 15 years ahead of schedule – ifthe government doesn’t allow it to moveahead with another landfill project.The Canada-based EBI Group, whosesubsidiary runs the private La CarpioEnvironmental Technology Park in northwestSan José, made the announcementafter learning that managers of the stateownedRío Azul dump, in Cartago east ofSan José, have asked the Ministry ofPublic Health to extend the dump’s operationsfor 18 months beyond its officialclosure date of Sept. 30, explained JuanCarlos Obando, general manager ofBerthier EBI de Costa Rica.Obando said EBI leaders are upsetbecause the company has invested morethan $2 million in a new landfill project inAserrí, a mountain region south of San José,that is supposed to be an alternative restingplace for the more than 700 metric tons ofgarbage being sent daily to Río Azul by adozen different municipal governments.“SEPT. 30 is a symbolic date. TheCanada headquarters has told the CostaRican government that on that day, a landfillis going to close,” Obando said.EBI began the Aserrí project severalyears ago on the invitation of public healthofficials who were seeking an alternativeto the three-decades-old and overflowingRío Azul dump, Obando said. He allegedthe Aserrí project is at a standstill becausethe government is dragging its feet on providingthe required operating permits.The possibility that the governmentmight extend Río Azul’s operations wasthe final straw for EBI officials, he added.EBI founder Michel Sylvestre traveledhere from Canada this week to meet withgovernment officials to define the fate ofEBI in Costa Rica after September.He will be in the country until the middleof next week, according to Obando.A spokesman for the city of San José,which is responsible for collecting the capital’ssolid waste, said the possibility of theCanadian company’s departure is “worrying”because its La Carpio site is the onlyoption for trash disposal in San José.“We must find a solution to the problem.If the trash piles up in San José foreven a couple of days, we would havemore than a thousand metric tons of trashon the streets. It would be an enormouspublic health problem, not just for the city,but for the nation. Commerce and tourismwould be affected,” said Mario Vargas,director of administrative contracting forthe Municipality of San José.BOTH Vargas and Obando denied thatthe company’s plans to abort operationshere have anything to do with corruptionallegations made by a former EBI official,published last week by the daily La Nación.In a lawsuit filed in Canada in 2001,former EBI de Costa Rica financial officerSébastien Henault alleged the companyhad a policy of “paying bribes.”“The content of the lawsuit is absolutelyfalse,” Obando told The Tico Times thisweek, adding that an ongoing investigationby the Chief Prosecutor’s Office wouldeventually prove this.The inauguration of EBI’s La Carpiolandfill in late 2000 was heralded as theonset of a new era of garbage managementin greater San José, since Río Azul, whereSan José formerly sent its trash, exceeded itscapacity years before (TT, Nov. 24, 2000).The quest to find a new site for SanJosé’s trash began during the administrationof Rafael Angel Calderón, Jr. (1990-94), when the government declared theproblem of garbage disposal a nationalemergency.

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