San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Folks Gasping for Air in Beachtowns’ Dust-Up

Residents of Malpaís and Santa Teresa, in the Pacific province of Puntarenas, are fed up with the dust.

The two neighboring towns, which harbor voracious surfing communities, have dealt with the problem since their inception. But residents say the problem has worsened because of increasing development, traffic and a new road improvement project that started last November.

People commonly wear bandanas as they traverse the area’s unpaved roads, riding on motorbikes or four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, to avoid inhaling all the dirt.

Because of the dust, some foreigners have already abandoned the area and returned to their native countries.

Among them are U.S. citizens Peter and Kiki Smiley.

“My husband and I left Malpaís this past Jan. 8 after five years living in Costa Rica,” states an e-mail from Kiki Smiley. “I moved to Costa Rica in very good health and I left with chronic bronchitis from the dust on the road that destroyed the front of our and many of our neighbor’s properties.”

Italian Gabriela Albisetti said the dust has destroyed her business, La Bella Napoli restaurant, in Malpaís.

“You have to clean every half-hour,” she said. “With all this dust, you can’t work and you can’t cook.”

As part of a $600,000 road-improvement project largely funded by a preferential loan from the German government, workers also cut down trees to widen the roads to 14 meters.

Albisetti said this was unnecessary and damaged her business because the trees protected her restaurant from the dust. She has since put up a protest sign, demanding her trees be replanted.

Malpaís Mayor Eladio Cortés said that is not going to happen, and he pleads for the public to be patient.

“They don’t have the right to deny the road project, and the law states municipal streets should be 14 meters in width,” he said. “I know there is a lot of dust now, but sometimes you have to suffer for a while before you get something better. I’m sorry for the residents, but it is a project that had to be done.”

Workers have almost finished the road widening portion of the project, which runs the 13 kilometers from Malpaís to Manzanillo beach, engineer José Eduardo Barahona said.

Barahona, who works for the German Technical Cooperation Agency and is in charge of seeing the loan money is being well spent, said the second phase – laying down base-course on the roads – would start soon and be finished by the end of April.

Base-course is a stone material finer than gravel that will be watered down and compacted by construction equipment.

Once this process is finished, the dust should be greatly decreased, Barahona said.


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