San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sala IV Slams Sardinal Project

In a major victory for Costa Rica’s environmental movement, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) has ruled against a controversial water pipeline project on the northern Pacific coast.

The pipeline project “violates the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” because it lacks the “technical certainty of the exploitation capacity of the Sardinal aquifer” and failed to assure “water availability to satisfy the community’s interests, which are fundamental,” the Sala IV said in a ruling handed down Wednesday.

Coastal developers in the booming tourist beach towns of Ocotal and Playas del Coco hashed out a deal in 2006 with the local water authority to build a pipeline to the inland village of Sardinal to draw water from an aquifer there.

Water supplies for the two coastal towns and neighboring Playa Hermosa have been sapped to the point of seasonal water shortages, and municipal officials have been forced to suspend authorizing new construction permits until other water sources are available.

At least 23 developers signed an agreement with the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) to fund and oversee construction of the $8 million pipeline through a trust fund held by the Bank of Costa Rica.

Once built, the project was to be handed over to the government in exchange for at least 5,000 individual water hookups.

Sardinal, however, erupted in violent protests when the pipeline was nearly threequarters finished, and neared the town.

Members of the community said they had not been consulted. An analysis of the project by the University of Costa Rica, and another by the National Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage Service (SENARA), the government agency in charge of the nation’s aquifers, concluded that developers lacked studies of whether the aquifer could handle the increased demand.

The congressionally appointed Ombudswoman and the Comptroller General’s Office issued reports calling into question the project’s legality.

Gadi Amit, a sustainable growth activist in the region with the Guanacaste Brotherhood, filed the original lawsuit against the project, naming a variety of government institutions that approved it.

“First, we are going to celebrate, maybe have a glass of wine, and then we are going to demand that they draw conclusions and fire those responsible for this entire disaster,” Amit said. “And those responsible are public officials and businessmen.”

Amit said he will also push for the cancellation of the project, not just a new study of the aquifers.

The full text of the court’s ruling will not be available for approximately a month, said court spokeswoman María Isabel Hernández, so exactly what the court will order done with the project is not yet clear.

According to the brief court statement, the justice found that developers did not carry out the necessary public meetings to inform the community about the project.

By press time, AyA spokeswoman Grettel Corrales had not returned a phone call seeking comment.


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