This aerial photograph shows the center of Puerto Viejo, Limon. According to INEC, 8,300 people live between Cahuita and Manzanillo, most at the edge of the coast. | Photo: Cámara de Turismo y Comercio del Caribe Sur (CATCCAS)
This aerial photograph shows the centre of Puerto Viejo, Limon. According to INEC, between Cahuita and Manzanillo , most at the edge of the coast. | Cámara de Turismo y Comercio del Caribe Sur (CATCCAS)

QCOSTARICA – Thousand of homes built within 200 metres from the shoreline, the Zona Marítimo Terrestre (ZMT) – Maritime  Zone – are at risk of being demolished if the 20 coastal municipalities of the country do not develop or update their regulatory plans by April 2016.

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INEC) – National Institute of Statistics and Census – 10.059 homes, housing 31.000 people, are located within the ZMT.

Last March, lawmakers passed a law of coastal urban areas, creating a system to deliver territorial concessions for up to 35 years to residents and merchants, who for years used the strip of land illegally.

The law established a period of two years to comply with the requirements of the local regulatory plan.

However, municipalities have been lax in updating or enacting a regulatory plan for the areas.

In the words of Melvin Cordero, Mayor of Talamanca (in the Caribbean coast) “adopting a regulatory plan is complicated,” but said his municipality expects to have one April 2016.

The uncertainty is stressful for these people, most between 50 and 60 years of age, that overnight may be told they have to go, for many forced to leave their birthplace.

The same uncertainty is on the Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, like Santa Cruz de Guanacaste.

“There have already been cases of threats of eviction and demolition (…). For us, this issue (enacting a regulatory plan) is important because people who live on the coast would be given some stability,” says María Rosa López, deputy mayor of Santa Cruz.

To convert a coastal urban area, a municipality has to update its master plan, and request approval by the Comisión Interinstitucional de Zonas Urbanas Litorales (Cizul) – Interagency Commission of Coastal Urban Areas, regulated by the Ministerio de Gobernación (Ministry of Interior).

Former legislator and promoter of the legislation, Carolina Delgado, considers time is running out and there is a need for the current legislators to extend the time period to allow municipalities more time.

The situation is complicated.

Lilliam Marín, area manager of Environmental Services and Energy of the Comptroller General (Area de Servicios Ambientales y Energía de la CGR), explains, “first, there has not been a strong political policy in this country. There is no one to direct the orchestra (…). Second, there are so many institutions involved that no one is in charge. There are many cases of institutions in conflict with one another.”

According to the  Controller General’s report DFOE-AE-IF-12-1204  of November 20, 2014, local municipalities are uncertain of the number of existing regulatory plans and do not know exactly the number of homes and businesses within the 200 metre maritime zone.

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