San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Activists Call for Coco Building Moratorium

In the face of blistering development that residents claim leaves them with barely a dribble at the kitchen sink or shower, the Guanacaste Brotherhood Association filed a lawsuit earlier this month requesting that the nation’s highest court stop all large-scale construction in the northwestern Pacific region around Bahía Culebra until inhabitants’ water rights are secured.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which can refuse or defer such cases, accepted the group’s suit immediately, then ordered the head of the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), Ricardo Sancho, to take measures to ensure sufficient water supply for residents, according to a statement from the association this week.

“They keep building hotels and condos, and asking for more water, but there is no more water to give,” said Gadi Amit, an outspoken Playa Panamá resident of 30 years, originally from Argentina, who is leading the charge against rampant development in the region.

Amit and others have found themselves thirsting for water for the first time this year, thanks to what he says is a total lack of community planning.

The lawsuit, signed by more than 100 residents – Ticos and foreigners alike – of Playa Panamá, Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco, specifically cites the recent news flurry in national newspapers regarding the Mapache Group’s developments in the Playas del Coco region, some of which lack proper permits (TT, March 2, 16).

It also charges that disorganized, illegal development threatens to pollute what little water remains – including the region’s highly regarded beaches, thanks to lack of appropriate sewage treatment options.

According to Amit, Hermosa’s plan regulador, or zoning plan, was passed in 1988, when the region was barely even a dot on the tourist map.

“Almost none of the developments in Playa Hermosa have permits,” he said, but all seem to have water, he added.

“They’re giving all the water to the new developments and hotels, and not to the people. Priority should be for the people,” he said. The problem is exacerbated during the dry season, usually December to April, during which it rains little, if at all, and aquifers are already stressed.

The lawsuit specifically asks for a moratorium on new building permits in the area –and the closure of all constructions without permits – a request with huge potential impact in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, where a recent study suggested that nearly one in four developments is illegal (TT,March 16).

Activists also insist that new investment projects – most of which involve sprinkler systems for verdant lawns and huge quantities of water to feed pools and spas in one of the driest areas of the country – should be required to finance and operate desalinization plants, to take advantage of the Costa Rica’s one interminable source of water: the Pacific Ocean.

The strongly worded suit also charges that all new development is being done “according to the demands and interests of the ‘investors,’ without the authorities putting order and monitoring the fulfillment of the laws to benefit the community as a whole.”

The moratorium concept proposed by the concerned Guanacaste residents seems to be gaining momentum in the country.

Earlier this month, the Belén Municipal Council, in the Central Valley, voted to suspend all construction permits for housing, condominiums and industry deemed “too large” while the municipality drafts a new zoning plan (TT,March 16).

“The development has come so fast that the storm gutters, sewers and roadways have collapsed,” Belén Mayor Horacio Alvarado told The Tico Times.

Municipal officials in Osa, on the southern Pacific coast, this week announced plans to suspend the issuance of development permits in the heavily forested Fila Costeña mountain range until a comprehensive zoning plan is approved (see separate story).

According to Ana Angulo, advisor to the Mayor of Carrillo, the canton which includes Hermosa, the municipality has yet to be notified of the lawsuit, and therefore, would not comment on the matter.

In an interview with The Tico Times earlier this month, the mayor, who, like the rest of the country’s officials, took office in February, acknowledged that the problem of disorganized, and often self-serving development, has gotten out of hand.

“Our municipality was not prepared for this kind of boom in construction,” he said, and added that it might be time to review the processes that govern development in the region.

According to Amit, the matter is urgent.

“This is a subject of national importance. We need to discuss it now. When the rains come, a lot of people will forget. But rain is only a temporary solution. We need something permanent,” he said.


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