San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Contradictory Evidence Delays Court Ruling

The Environmental Tribunal suspended a ruling last week on environmental charges against Cabo Caletas, a large development in Esterillos Oeste near Parrita on the central Pacific coast, after the defendant presented evidence during a hearing that contradicted the charges.

The Environmental Tribunal is an administrative court under the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET).

Cabo Caletas, a 180-hectare Plot where 800 condominiums and a golf course are under construction, was one of the first projects to be charged with disruption of natural habitats when the  court began its environmental sweeps in 2008. The court charged the development with blocking the water flow of streams by building a bridge, cutting down protected trees and filling in a wetland.

The charges were made after a team of experts from the court visited the area in 2008 to document environmental violations. The court says the alleged damages total $546, 486, monies the owners of Cabo Caletas would have to pay.

The defendants deny all of it.

Aaron Dowd, who represents the project, said his party last week presented to the court photos, dating back to the 1970s, that illustrate the trees never existed, as well as maps that he claims demonstrate that the project did not build in wetlands. Dowd said that water flow was not obstructed by the construction of the bridge, but rather that court officials visited the area during the dry season when the stream’s water doesn’t flow.

The court said it will send the newly presented evidence to the central Pacific office of the National System of Conservation Areas, which operates under the Environment Ministry, for its reaction.

The case represents the first time that a defendant has challenged charges that resulted from an environmental sweep by the Environmental Tribunal, as most alleged violations have been settled outside of court. Both court officials and the defendant say that they believe the process will successfully determine the facts and that the final ruling will be a correct one.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 9. Court officials said they hope to have an analysis of the evidence completed before then.

–Mike McDonald

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