San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

San José suburbs going green

The suburban communities southwest of San José are home not only to Costa Rica’s best malls, finest restaurants and luxury condominium developments, but also some of the most progressive environmental initiatives around.

From clean-energy projects and landmark recycling programs to water treatment and “green” housing developments, the communities of Escazú, Santa Ana and others nearby are working across government agencies and communities to safeguard their environmental integrity.

“In environmental terms, we’re working very hard against the contamination of natural areas,” said Michelle Arias, environmental inspector for the Escazú Municipality. 

That includes community cleanups of local parks and nature areas, as well as tree-planting events. These kinds of community activities go hand-in-hand with municipal policies designed to protect the environment and citizens of the area. Arias said recently that environmental initiatives in Escazú have gained the support of the private sector, too.

“In the past two years, something that is very promising that we’ve seen is a lot of interest from private companies to help out with environmental projects like cleanups and tree-plantings,” Arias said. 

“We have all kinds of groups interested in being involved in these things,” Arias added, citing park cleanups in the past year, tree-planting by employees of HCBC Bank and their families, and efforts by students of a technical high school in Escazú and senior groups who have also gotten their hands dirty cleaning up parks and planting trees.

In 2010, Arias said, the municipality helped in the planting of 707 trees in the area.

Escazú has long been a leader in waste management in Costa Rica. In 2002, the community rolled out the first municipal recycling program, which went from collecting 169 tons of domestic recyclable material that year to more than 726 tons in 2008 (TT, May 1, 2009).

Escazú, Santa Ana and Mora are also working on new ways to deal with liquid waste and sewage from their communities. In January, Vice President Luis Liberman received a technical study outlining a plan for a new system to handle sewage and wastewater in the area. The study, which cost a whopping $720,000, was undertaken with the support of the French government and described a system of six pumping stations, 45 kilometers of sewer lines and a treatment plant that would be located on the far western edge of Santa Ana.

Liberman promised to support the development of the plan, which the study estimated to cost approximately $129 million, calling water treatment “necessary and vital for the health of all Costa Ricans.”

The issue of water pollution is one Arias says is pressing in the area and something that the Escazú Municipality is focusing on in 2012. The proposed treatment system will be a help to all the communities it will serve, she added.

A 17-turbine wind farm is also being built in the mountains of Santa Ana, which, upon its completion sometime in 2013, is expected to generate enough electricity for some 15,000 homes in the Central Valley. Transmission lines will carry the electricity made by the windmills to a substation in Escazú, where that energy can be funneled to the wider electric grid (TT, Jan. 20).

In addition to these projects, a new “green” housing development will break ground near Jaboncillo in coming months. The Bosques de Escazú “eco-urban” condominium complex, developed by Grupo Rica Costa, aims to be the largest “green” housing development in Costa Rica, utilizing renewable energy and energy-saving technologies in its construction.

With 128 condos arranged in four towers, the development, which according to a statement issued by Grupo RC, claims to be the “greenest” development participating in this year’s ExpoCasa, will also include an on-site plan for treating and reusing wastewater. Grupo RC will also plant some 250 trees at the site, with the help of the National University, to help offset the development’s carbon footprint.

But environmental initiatives don’t just become successful in a vacuum. There’s something more at work in and around the “City of Witches” besides government initiatives in environmental stewardship.

“I’ve always said that our recycling system in Escazú has continued successfully because people participate as well as the commercial sector, so from that standpoint we’ve had great support,” Arias said.

But that doesn’t mean the work is over.

“People participate in recycling,” Arias said. “But we still lack a lot, and so we continue trying to educate people in terms of wastewater and other issues.”

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