Officials Get Into the Zone

August 29, 2008

PLAYAS DEL COCO, Guanacaste This Pacific coastal town is setting the tone for an increasingly hard-line stance on Costa Rica s Maritime Zone (ZMT) by finally enforcing laws that govern the country s coastal area and have been, until recently, largely ignored.

Last October, the local municipality began demolishing the undocumented construction mostly houses and bars that encroached upon the swath of land 50 meters from the water s edge that is designated as public by the ZMT laws.

Costa Rica has about 1,466 kilometers of coastline governed by 24 different municipalities.

Nicoya and Santa Cruz in the northwestern Guanacaste province are two other municipalities that have started to demolish illegal construction in the public maritime areas of their respective coastlines.

The municipalities hadn t done anything before because there was always a fear about the legal procedures they might have to deal with, says Katherine Mourelo, the ex-legal adviser for the Municipality of Carrillo, a canton that encompasses Playas del Coco. We wanted to make sure that we had a project in place for the public zone in order to justify the demolitions.

The project is a publicly funded pedestrian boulevard that will run the length of the beach about one kilometer and will include public gardens, benches, kiosks and lighting.

For now, however, the 50-meter public zone is barren and strewn with the ruins of the past year s demolitions.

The plans are ready, says Carlos Cantillo, the mayor of Carrillo. And they ll begin as soon as the case of the Bar el Ancla is resolved.

El Ancla de Oro is the only beachfront establishment still standing. An unresolved legal hiccup from 10 years ago has protected its infrastructure, although authorities have stripped its commercial and liquor licenses.

What we are really lacking is organization, says Mourelo, talking about the ZMT in general.

The ZMT, established in 1977, designated that the first 50 meters from pleamar ordinaria, approximately a halfway point between the high- and low-tide marks, would be public land, which means absolutely no private construction.

But locals have been building homes, bars and businesses without land titles in the public maritime zone for over half a century.

I was expecting you for 40 years, said Adela Gutiérrez when the municipality arrived to her wooden house with an eviction notice.

The municipality is not paying expropriation fees because the land was never privately owned.

We had been there since the early 60s, says Cecilia Viquez, co-owner and administrator of Bar El Bohío, a beachside beer drinkers institution that was demolished in October. She says she won t relocate. I don t have the money, and where else would I go?

The next 150 meters inland were designated as concession land and can be built upon. Concessions are granted for a maximum 20 years for specific tourism purposes in accordance with the local zoning plan. A concession holder cannot hold more than one concession, and concessions cannot be sold to private third parties.

These laws, however, have often been ignored. Many municipalities lack zoning plans. Concession holders hold more than one concession, build private homes on concession land and sell concessions.

Gerardo Acuña, the mayor of Parrita in Puntarenas, estimates that concession land in his district sells for between $500,000 and $1 million a hectare, according to the daily La Nación.

I think that the culmination of this project will be when the law is enforced on the other 150 meters (of the ZMT), says Kristian Faerron, president of ADECOCO, a development association in Playas del Coco.

An integral zoning plan for the Carrillo coast is in the works. We are in the process of contracting a company to perform a topographic survey that will allow us to situate every concession and determine the true concession holders. This will allow us to control the 150-meter zone of the canton, says Cantillo.

There will be more demolitions, says Cantillo. The project aims to clean the 49 kilometers of coastline (in the canton of Carrillo) by the beginning of next year. Says Mourelo: The primary intention of the ZMT laws is to protect the coasts and guarantee that everyone can enjoy the beach. We want Coco to set the example.

 

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