San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Smooth Sailing for Playas del Coco Marina

PLAYAS DEL COCO, Guanacaste – In a scooped-out bay on the northern PacificCoast, dozens of boats rock softly in Playas del Coco’s waters.

Soon the boats could have an even safer harbor.

Plans for a marina in this bay, which promoters say would improve the environment as well as bring more jobs and tourists, are moving forward.

The Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourist Docks (CIMAT) has recently approved developers’ initial plans, paving the way for a concession to build and operate the marina.

“The request is already in with the municipality for the concession, and we are expecting the reply in approximately a month to a month and a half,” said Rafael Villegas, president of the Association for the Development of the Playas del Coco Marina.

The association includes 17 people, “all members of the Playas del Coco community – lawyers, architects, engineers, business owners, builders, fishers,” Villegas said.

The association plans to invest $24 million in the 299-slip marina, which would cover a total of 24 hectares: 13 hectares on water and 11 hectares on land.

The construction on land would include offices for the port authority, immigration and police, as well as a nautical club, a restaurant, souvenir stores, a repair shop and dry dock storage for another 120 boats,Villegas said.

If developers receive the concession, they can then apply for construction permits from the municipality and, pending the approval of those, begin construction.

Villegas estimates that if all goes according to plan, construction could begin in about a year and last for another two years, putting completion sometime in 2011.

“There is no opposition to the marina, and even though some ‘greens,’ or environmentalists, have protested against other marinas, even they know this is an ecological solution for Coco,” he said.

One well-known environmentalist, Gadi Amit, of the Guanacaste Brotherhood Association, said that despite a general opposition to marinas, he would give the Coco project a pass.

“If there is a marina that makes sense and that I wouldn’t oppose – if it’s done right, of course – it is the Coco marina, because anything they do on that beach is better than the disorder now,” Amit said.

“They fill up their boats with fuel right there on the beach, sending a hose through the water.Any accident would be disastrous,” he added.

Villegas said the marina plans include a municipal dock where ships would be required to load and unload their fuel, improving environmental safety.

“The marina will meet international regulations. Not a drop of fuel will be spilled,” he said. “It will be as if it were being built in California.”

Villegas said the project will be financed in part through an $8 million loan from Banco Nacional. Those funds become available once the concession is approved by the municipality. The rest of the money is to come from the presale of the dock slips.

“With just 10 percent of the sales, we will have $6 million,”Villegas said.

Villegas said he did not know exactly how much the slips would cost, but said they would cost “20 percent less” than those at Los Sueños, Costa Rica’s only operating marina, located at Playa Herradura on the Central Pacific coast. Los Sueños leases slips from $727 a year to more than $7,300, depending on the length of the boat and whether the boat owner has property at the resort.

Villegas said Playas del Coco is the perfect place for a marina.

Not known as a swimming destination, Coco is a fishing village-turned-jump-off for sportfishing and scuba diving.

“It is a bay that is protected from the wind and waves,” Villegas said. “And it has something important: It is a village of fishers.

It is nicer to have a marina with a fishing village next to it than have only luxury hotels, like Papagayo.”

Villegas said the project, once complete, would provide between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs, with each boat requiring three people, between maintenance and cleaning.

Marina Mania

Three other marinas are under construction along the Pacific coast, according to CIMAT, an office of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).

The furthest along is the Papagayo marina, north of Playas del Coco, on the southern side of the PapagayoPeninsula. This will be part of the stateadministrated Polo Turístico Golfo Papagayo, a concession-only area home to some of the country’s most luxurious resorts.

“That has advanced very well, and they are thinking it will open the beginning of 2009,” said CIMAT head Oscar Villalobos.

A second marina, located south of Los Sueños in front of the town of Quepos, is the Marina Pez Vela.

Developers have planned on opening next year, but have not specified a date.

“It’s in the construction phase. It’s not as advanced as Papagayo, but it’s much further along than Golfito,” Villalobos said.

The third marina under way is the Marina Bahía Escondida, located inside Golfo Dulce on the southern Pacific coast. According to Villalobos, that project “has gotten very behind,” and has no estimated open date.

The nation’s only other operating marina, in Playa Flamingo, south of Coco, was closed in 2004 for environmental violations (TT, March 26, 2004). After years of conflict and bureaucratic confusion, the concession to build a new marina at Flamingo was awarded this year to bidder Desarrollos de Marinas Matapalo Demm S.A. That decision, however, has been appealed by a losing bidder.

Marinas have also been proposed on various other beaches, including at the Central Pacific’s Jacó, but Villalobos said no others have presented plans.

A proposed marina on the Caribbean’s Puerto Viejo touched off community-wide protests earlier this year (TT, Feb. 1, April 18).


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