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Landfill Operators Propose Solutions

MANAGERS of the much-criticizedstate-owned Río Azul landfill in Cartago,east of San José, yesterday formallyasked public health officials to extendthe landfill’s operating permit a yearand a half past its scheduled Sept. 30 closure.The controversial request to keepdepositing trash at the 30-year-old – somesay overflowing – dump comes as privatelandfill operator Berthier EBI de CostaRica, which operates San José’s onlywaste-disposal site, says it may abort operationsif Río Azul is kept open.Meanwhile, reports have surfaced inthe daily La Nación implicating the company,a subsidiary of the Canada-basedEBI Group, in a corruption scandal involvingalleged payments to Costa Rican officials,including San José Mayor JohnnyAraya (see separate article).EBI General Manager Juan CarlosObando denies the allegations promptedthe company to announce it might shutdown operations here. He says it has to dowith the country’s legal insecurity and thegovernment’s failure to develop a long termnational waste-management plan(TT, July 15).OBANDO also accuses the governmentof dragging its feet on permits for amodern landfill EBI plans to open inAserrí, south of San José, to provide aviable alternative for the estimated 750metric tons of trash sent daily to the agingRío Azul site (TT, July 8).However, representatives of the PublicHealth Ministry and the EnvironmentMinistry’s National Technical Secretariat(SETENA), two agencies that provide permissionfor landfill operations, denied anyundue delays when questioned by TheTico Times.The possibility that the Costa Ricangovernment might extend Río Azul’s operationswas the final straw for EBI officials,Obando said.AT least 11 Central Valley municipalities,including those surrounding the cityof San José, haul their rubbish to Río Azul,which in the past three decades hasevolved from an open-air dump into amore sanitary landfill, according to governmentofficials.Though one administration afteranother has promised the landfill’s closureand concrete work toward this goal beganfive years ago (TT, Sept. 22, 2000), RíoAzul management now argues it doesn’thave enough money to ensure apermanent, environmentally sound closure.Some of the municipalities haveaccrued overdue trash-disposal billsamounting to nearly $1.3 million, saidAndrea Centeno, spokeswoman for theRegional Municipal Federation of the East(FEDEMUR), the government agency thatmanages Río Azul. It has subcontractedoperations to private waste-managementcompany WPP Continental.Though municipalities owe morethan the estimated $1 million FEDEMURsays is required for the closureprojects, collecting this debt in time toclose the landfill “is utopian,” Centenotold The Tico Times.“We have to keep accepting trash tocollect the money needed for the technicalclosure,” she said, adding that operatorsalso require more trash for a proper closure.“Río Azul is literally a mountain. Onthe south side, there is a hole. To properlyclose this hole, we need to fill it with moretrash.”THE Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) in 1996 orderedthe Executive Branch to “reach the definitiveclosure of the landfill with strictadherence to measures that guarantee people’sfundamental rights.” The ruling,however, does not mention a deadline.Obando says it is clear the landfillmust close Sept. 30, when FEDEMUR’scontract with the Ministry of Public Healthto operate the landfill expires. Others,including Bernardo Monge, director of theDepartment of Human EnvironmentProtection at the Health Ministry, saythat’s not certain.In fact, Monge said, the high courtmade clear the decision is a technical onethat does not correspond to court justices.Centeno agreed.“The Sala IV is not a technically determiningplayer,” she said.Monge said the decision to extend RíoAzul’s operating permit can be made onlyby the Health Minister using technical criteriafrom his department. He declined togive his opinion about whether the landfillcould or should be shut down inSeptember.MEANWHILE, EBI wants to moveforward with its proposed AczarríEnvironmental Technology Park to providean alternate final resting place fortrash from the eastern Central Valley andother municipalities such as the westernSan José suburb of Escazú.The waste-management companysays the project, which would be locatedin a former rock quarry in El Huasode Aserrí, would include a modernrecycling plant and a tree-lined bikepath for residents.Despite these promises, residents havevoiced opposition.A February 2004 public meeting todiscuss the proposal was cancelled after agroup of Aserrí residents filed a lawsuitbefore the Sala IV alleging that the procedureSETENA had applied to organize themeeting “was not ideal,” SETENADirector Patricia Campos told The TicoTimes.Though the court ruled against the residentsin April, Campos said no new datehas been set for the meeting – required forSETENA to make a decision on the environmental-impact study EBI submitted forthe project.Nevertheless, Campos denied EBIofficials’ allegations that the project isstuck in SETENA.“I would say we have advanced quitea bit on the project, even though wehaven’t set a new date. We have to createpublications and publicity explaining theproject – again – so people know what theproject is about. We also need to allowtime for the people (who might be affected)to propose the best place, day and timefor the meeting, so that as many people aspossible can attend. The more, the better,”she said, adding she couldn’t provide atimeframe because meetings for other projectsare in the works and the agency has alimited staff.After the public meeting, three optionsexist.“We can reject (the project); we canask the company to submit an annex to itsimpact study to clarify certain issuesraised in the meeting, or we can approveit,” Campos said. “We are not going toissue an opinion on the project until afterthe public meeting.”


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