San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bill would boost environment court's budget


Costa Rica’s governmental Environmental Commission is working on a bill that would increase funding and resources for the Environmental Tribunal, which has been tasked with conducting sweeps of building developments, including homes and hotels, to crack down on illegal construction.

Yesterday, members of the tribunal, an administrative court of the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), appeared before the commission to answer questions and summarize the work they’ve done this year.

The tribunal’s investigations and shuttering of illegal projects on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts has led to political pressure, a recent break-in at tribunal offices and even death threats on its judges.

Since José Lino Chaves took over as president of the three-judge court in January, the tribunal has launched an unprecedented crackdown on coastal development, long denounced by organizations both within and outside of the government as out of control and unregulated.

In a series of raids, the tribunal has swept through the Central Pacific (primarily Jacó and Playa Hermosa), the Caribbean coast (Puerto Viejo and the cantons of Manzanillo and Gandoca), the northwest Guanacaste province (the cantons of Santa Cruz and Carrillo) and the Southern Pacific (mostly along the Fila Costeña coastal mountain range).

As a result, some 40 construction projects have been put under investigation, suspended or shut down entirely, amounting to more than 4,000 luxury residences, hotel rooms and condominiums, the tribunal reports.

These include such big-name projects as the $300 million Hotel Hyatt Azulera, under investigation for possible environmental damage, on Guanacaste’s Brasilito beach, and the Ritz-Carlton’s $250 million Guacamaya project in Guanacaste that was suspended for “the extraction of geological materials,” according to the tribunal.

Members of the Environmental Commission, formed by the Legislative Assembly, applauded the tribunal´s work and promised support. The court currently works out of a small downtown San José office with a staff of just 12 covering the entire country.

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