San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Construction halted on Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast

Landowners in Playa Grande, Playa Langosta and Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast, said they were surprised this week when Santa Cruz Municipal building inspectors shut down their construction sites for potentially infringing on land used for leatherback turtle nesting.

The move followed a mid-December ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) against building within the disputed boundaries of Las Baulas National Marine Park, or in a 500-meter buffer zone around the park´s periphery (TT, Jan. 16)

Santa Cruz Municipality inspector Overath Ortega said as many as 20 sites could potentially have been closed, but officials could not confirm the exact number of projects shuttered by press time.

The environmental group Leatherback Trust, which aims to protect the critically endangered leatherback turtles ( baulas in Spanish), hailed the municipality´s move as a victory.

“At last, the Santa Cruz Municipality is following the orders of the Constitutional Chamber (of the Supreme Court),” said José Luis Rodríguez, lawyer for the Leatherback Trust.

However, despite the court ruling, some landowners said their properties were wrongly pinpointed and vowed to fight the closure.

Tom Battaglia said his almost half-acre plot lies beyond the park´s buffer zone, and the nearly finished buildings on his land pose no threat to turtles. He knows this, he said, because he carried out an almost year-long environmental impact study, required for attaining a building permit.

“(The municipality) is just throwing a blanket moratorium on everybody in Playa Grande,” Battaglia said.

However, Ortega, the building inspector, insisted the order came from Costa Rica´s highest court, and that his team visited sites throughout Grande, Langosta and Tamarindo that were clearly marked on an official municipal map.

The building freeze will continue until environment authorities complete a definitive assessment of the area, clearly delineating where construction can occur, according to Ortega.

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