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The Marinas of
Golfito Costa Rica

The approval of permits for construction of the new 217-slip marina in Golfito has been a process lasting over two years. The many governmental agencies of Costa Rica which have been involved in this process have been open and forthcoming to the public and the press regarding their studies and findings.

While many agree that the Golfito region needs this future development as an economic boost, there are environmental impact concerns regarding currently operating marinas, docks and sportfishing fleets in the Golfito Bay and Golfo Dulce Region.

The King and Bartlett, pictured at left, is the only tourism dock and marina in Golfito currently operating with a concession in compliance with 1998 Law 7744. Of the fourteen other marinas currently operating without concessions, most were already in business before the law took effect seven years ago, but still have not received concessions.

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Environmental Impact of the Marinas of Golfito Costa Rica

Submitted by: Linda Kelly, Geologist, permanent resident of Costa Rica

In this author's opinion, the new marina in Golfito has made a significant contribution to our environmental awareness of the Golfo Dulce Region, even before construction begins. By going through the proper legal channels, a time consuming and expensive ordeal, this new marina has ensured that the entire region will now be more stringently overseen by the appropriate government agencies.

In the past, the Golfito Bay and Golfo Dulce region has been relatively remote, and environmental regulation and permitting has not been enforced,  and blatantly ignored by some developers - without fear of reprisal.

The King and Bartlett, pictured above, is the only tourism dock and marina in Golfito currently operating with a concession in compliance with 1998 Law 7744. Of the fourteen other marinas currently operating without concessions, most were already in business before the law took effect seven years ago, but still have not received concessions. Some have continued construction without permits, even though the 1998 law specifically prohibited marinas and tourism docks in mangrove areas.

Environmental watchdog organizations are urged to continue to disseminate information about the environmental impact of development in the area, and to expose past abuses and destruction of vital marine species, endangered mangroves and source rivers around Golfito Bay and the Golfo Dulce.

Business owners who have flagrantly ignored these regulations in the past should be held responsible and financially accountable for reparation to these fragile ecosystems, in order to stop the destruction and encourage those businesses that demonstrate compliance with the law and awareness of the environment.

Constructions within protected areas such as mangroves should be ordered dismantled and removed - gasoline tanks, metal and concrete pilings, docks, piers, and hotels - and the land restored as much as possible to original condition, so that the ecosystem can begin the long process of recovery and restoration.

Source: The Tico Times, print edition July 8, 2005

... The proposed construction of a new, enormous marina on the (Golfito) bay is giving hope to many in the community for another chance at their lost glory days, but the regulations around existing, smaller marinas are causing conflict.

The only existing docking business in Golfito with a concession on the water, King and Bartlett Marina, is crying foul over alleged irregularities that have allowed several others to remain in business without the proper permits for seven years.

Marinas, and the tourism they support, represent prosperity to the struggling community (of Golfito). For that reason, according to government officials, the more than a dozen tourism docks and marinas in Golfito have been allowed to continue doing business without the concessions required by a 1998 law governing marinas and docks...

Famed for its bountiful sportfishing and surrounded by some of the most untamed and bio-diverse forests in the country, including the legendary Corcovado National Park across the gulf, Golfito's relative remoteness is one reason why the zone has not seen the same level of development as areas such as the country's northern and central Pacific coasts...

... tourism looks to get a major boost with the construction of the Golfito Marina, slated to begin this year.

The first $50 million phase of the $400 million project entails the construction of a 217-slip marina and a 100-150 room hotel. The director of the project, Marvin Jaén,  says the marina, which has a concession, would provide 1,000 new jobs to the community of 36,000 (TT, June24, 2004). The owners of several other docks in Golfito told the Tico Times they look forward to the business that could come with the added exposure the new marina - being developed by the Costa Rican company Hacienda Dorado, S.A., and potentially financed with U.S. capital - is expected bring to the area.

The 1998 Law 7744 for the Concession and Operation of Marinas and Tourism Docks, meant to regulate the industry, required all companies with docks on the water for tourism use to get a concession through a process of presenting proposals and environmental impact studies to different government agencies and the municipal government.

Regulations accompanying the law ordered all exisitng facilities to comply within six months or face closure. However, of the facilities in Golfito that were in operation when the law passed, not one has received its concession.

This infuriates Steve Leen, owner of King and Bartlett, a sportfishing outfit he opened three years ago... "Why is King and Bartlett the only business that has to adhere?"...."This makes it more difficult to compete," Leen said, "Our overhead goes up, while other businesses don't have to pay their taxes."

"I look forward to paying these taxes when I can complete the process," said Bruce Blevins, who runs Banana Bay (a marina that sits a few hundred meters north along the coast from King and Bartlett)... Difering interpretations of the law, as well as bureaucratic inefficiency, he said, are the reasons why it has taken his business so long to get a concession....

Katie Duncan, owner of the small tourism dock Tierra Mar (Land Sea Services), neighboring Banana Bay, echoed some of Blevins' complaints....

The job of enforcing the law falls on the municipality.  Golfito's current mayor, Aída Soto, took the position three months ago after the previous mayor was removed from office and jailed briefly for allegedly failing to comply with orders from the Comptroller General's Office. Soto acknowledged that the law has not been enforced for seven years.

"But now, all are in the process of getting their concessions," she said.

According to CIMAT (Inter-Institutional Commission on Marinas and Tourism Docks), this is true of those operating along the shoreline of the city of Golfito, but of the 14 marinas and tourism docks in the Golfito bay, not all are on their way to legality.

Tourism docks Golfito Sailfish Ranch, Siete Mares, Cabinas Playa Cacao and Dock 2038 are all operating without concessions and are not in process to receive one...

Roy's Zancudo Lodge approached CIMAT about getting its concession, Villalobos continued, but it, along with the Arena Alta tourism dock and the municipal dock of Playa Zancudo, a small coastal town south of Golfito, all are located within mangroves. The 1998 law prohibits marinas and tourism docks in mangrove areas, making it impossible for them to receive a concession unless they move...

The Isla Grande Marina and Hotel Gaviotas are also in the process of getting their concessions... The owners of Mar and Luna dock in Golfito have informed CIMAT that they are not interested in getting a concession and will not be conducting tourism business.

Villalobos explained a certain "tolerance" has existed towards these businesses, in part because there is a "political pressure" to keep them open. "The spirit of CIMAT is to promote the operation of marinas and docks in the Golfito area," Villalobos said, "Enforcement hasn't been strict and they have been given many opportunities."

adapted from the Tico Times print edition, July 8, 2005

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