Twelve families trapped between the old judicial process of expropriation and the need for the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose (SJO) to expand to accommodate the growth in air travel at Costa Rica’s major airport, will soon live literally next to the taxiway that will soon be used by airplanes taxiing as they prepare for takeoff or after landing.

The residents of La Candela live their day to day in the middle of the machinery that is building a taxiway in the expansion of the San Jose airport almost at the doors of their houses. Photography: Alejandro Gamboa Madrigal

In the process that is now more than two years long, the backyards of these families will be divided with the taxiway by a chain link fence, given the failed attempt by the MOPT to expropriate, a process so complicated it forced a change in the design of the works, included in the master plan of the expansion of the international airport.

Why is this happening?

The process of expropriating this piece of land, an estate divided into at least five lots, each with more than one house, is under the old law which does not permit the government – the MOPT in this case – to take posession of the land until the process is complete.

The main problem is that the owners did not accept the appraisal value (done by the MOPT) of the land.

Apart from the rejection of the appraisals, there is another list of related problems. For example, on the property, there are houses with mortgages. And, as if it was not enough, in recent weeks, it has come to light that one of the alleged owners, already deceased,  and whose land parcel physically does not exist, requires the appointment of a ‘perito’ (expert) to find an heir to represent him to clear up the conflict.

The design of the taxiway has to be modified to include the construction of a wall to separate that runway from the houses that could not be expropriated. Photography: Alejandro Gamboa Madrigal

“The problem with the process of expropriation began with the previous law, that process has been at least two years in court and has not yet been resolved,” explained Alex Ureña, in charge of land acquisitions at the MOPT.

Under the old expropriation law, the State cannot take possession of the land until the parties reach an agreement; With the current legislation, the State is able to take possession although there is no agreement.

For its part, the airport manager, MOPT and contractor, faced with the impossibility of obtaining possession in a reasonable time, say the project has not suffered delays with the redesign of the southern part of the taxiway.

Rafael Mencía, executive director for Aeris, the administrator of the airport, explained: “that the works that have required adjustments in the designs correspond to the second phase of the south parallel taxiway.”

According to Civil Aviation, US$8 million (about ¢4,700 million colones) was allocated for the expropriation the land and relocation of the affected people.

Ana Lorena Marín is one of the owners of the lots pending expropriation, told La Nacion that her desire is to be able to leave that site, but she should be compensated justly.

“We know that the law is clear on the subject of valuation of a just price, the MOPT is the one that made the appraisals, made some very low appraisals, ¢55,000 colones a square meter (…), said Doña Ana, added that the evaluation is perhaps “for a piece of land located in Cariari de Guapiles”.

The noise of the machinery, dust and even floods are part of the inconveniences that the residents face. Photography: Alejandro Gamboa Madrigal

Doña Ana said that land in the area around them has been valued at between ¢130,000 and ¢150,000 per square meter. In addition, the woman has denounced that in addition to the low evaluation they have had to face harassment on the part of the construction company, which is pressing them in different ways to leave the property.

“One day they wanted to move the fence and leave us half on the street, they tried to move the meters, they came with a truck to offer to move the household, without the expropriation being done,” she said.

On top of this, Doña Ana and the other families have to live through other problems, such as the flooding that their houses suffered weeks ago when with the first rains and the dust and noise of heavy equipment from the non-stop work being carried on around the clock.

Maritza Rojas, who has lived in there for 35 years, also regretted that the value of her property is not being recognized.

Doña Maritza assures nowhere in Alajuela, Heredia or Belén will she able to get a house with the ¢17 million colones she is being offered by the MOPT. “I do not want to leave, they do not see that here everything is close, the school, the jobs,” affirmed the woman, who, contrary to her neighbors, she would like to stay where she is.

Yerelin Arias, another of the affected, is resigned to the fact that with the little money they will get, they will get a loan to buy a house if they want to continue living near the area, otherwise, she said, they would have move to a place like Poás de Alajuela or another town further away.

Several of the affected said that Aeris called them to negotiate the transfer of rights, that is to sell the property and then continue with the expropriation. However, the company has not confirmed such an offer.

That, the 12 families say, would be a solution to the problem, however, they would all have to accept the proposal because it is a single estate.