WHILE heaps of garbage continue to flow into the Río Azul landfill in the province of Cartago, east of San José, almost a month before its projected closure, the fate of garbage in Costa Rica appears uncertain as authorities and waste management companies seek ways to ensure that the country’s wastes are properly collected and treated.As managers of the 30-year-old, heavily opposed Río Azul landfill, which some say is overflowing, try to reach an agreement with health officials regarding terms for an extension of the landfill’s closure, scheduled for Sept. 30, the possible rejection of a proposed landfill project in the canton of Mora, west of San José, and garbage collectors’ strikes this week in San José and Tibás, north of the capital, are adding to the turmoil that surrounds the country’s garbage problems.THE Regional Municipal Federation of the East (FEDEMUR), the government agency that manages Río Azul, asked health authorities in July to extend the landfill’s closure by 18 months – from Sept. 30, the date its operating permit expires, until March 2007 (TT, July 22). Members of the government’s Wastes Committee, made up of representatives of the Public Health Ministry and the Institute for Municipal Development (IFAM), offered FEDEMUR a 12-month extension last week with the condition they reduce their daily garbage intake to ease the landfill’s eventual closure, according to Juan José Echeverría, coordinator of the committee.FEDEMUR rejected this offer, claiming the resulting reduction in the landfill’s profits would deny the agency the funds necessary to effect the closure. Although work toward the goal of closing the landfill began five years ago (TT, Sept. 22, 2000), the agency alleges the rest of this procedure will cost approximately $1 million. According to FEDEMUR spokeswoman Andrea Centeno, Río Azul will need to receive a daily intake of 750 tons of garbage, the volume it currently receives each day, for 18 months after its scheduled closure in order to cover the costs of closing down the landfill properly.Centeno added that if Río Azul receives 250 fewer tons per day – with the landfill’s rate of ¢5,545 ($12) per ton – its daily losses could reach ¢1.3 million (approximately $2,700).In an effort to resolve the disagreement, representatives from both sides met Wednesday. Wastes Committee coordinator Echeverría said the committee will perform a technical and economic analysis of FEDEMUR’s 18-month, 750 ton per day proposal and get back to them within the next week.“It (the meeting) was very profitable. The ministry could see our numbers are not born from caprice,” Centeno said.ACCORDING to Echeverría, if Río Azul were to decrease its intake of garbage, the excess garbage would be deposited at the only landfill within San José’s city limits: the La Carpio EnvironmentalTechnology Park, west of San José, managed by Berthier EBI de Costa Rica, a subsidiary of the Canada-based EBI Group.The La Carpio landfill would be a temporary option while the Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA) performs environmental viability studies for two proposed landfills, one in the canton of Mora, west of the capital, and another in Aserrí, in San José, to be managed by EBI.In recent months EBI threatened to cease operations in Costa Rica on Sept. 30 if the government did not allow it to proceed with the Aserrí project (TT, July 8). However, EBI has discarded this idea and will carry on with the project, according to the daily La Nación.The company is implicated in a scandal involving San José mayor Johnny Araya, who allegedly received an illegal payment of $65,000 from EBI (TT, Aug. 5). BOTH the Mora and Aserrí landfill projects have generated opposition from area residents.EBI’s plans to build the proposed Aczarrí Environmental Technology Park in El Huaso de Aserrí, at the site of a former rock quarry, have generated strong opposition.A public meeting to discuss the project, in February 2004, was cancelled after area residents filed a lawsuit before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) complaining about SETENA’s organization of the meeting.A new meeting has not yet been rescheduled, although regulations prevent SETENA from making a decision on the environmental viability study for the landfill project until the meeting takes place.TECNOAMBIENTE, a private Costa Rican waste-management company, awaits government and popular approval to begin construction of a landfill in Mora, 22 kilometers from Ciudad Colón.The company – the product of an alliance between Bulk Express, a U.S. waste-management company based in Florida, and El Jateo Industrial Park in Mora – plans on investing an estimated $10 million to create the landfill, according toRodrigo Blanco, head of Tecnoambiente.The landfill would operate on grounds belonging to El Jateo that cover 236 hectares, Blanco explained at a press conference last week.The company awaits completion of an environmental viability study by SETENA and will reevaluate the project with the Mora Municipality, which opposes the landfill, within the next two months, Blanco said.According to Blanco, landfill opponents in Mora have spread erroneous information about the proposal.“A group of high-society people in Mora do not want to say they live in the garbage canton,” Blanco said, adding, “In Costa Rica, the topic of garbage is dangerous. Everyone wants to avoid it, but it is a necessity.” Municipal leaders say they oppose the landfill on environmental grounds; they rejected a request for a location permit placed in July.“We do not have any plans to reconsider (our stance),” Rosaura Cascante, secretary of the municipal council, told The Tico Times.ADDING to the nationwide garbage conflict was a hunger strike staged by garbage collectors this week in front of the Municipality of Tibás, north of San José. Last Friday, 13 garbage collectors started a hunger strike that lasted until Tuesday night to protest their dismissal, and that of 27 other garbage collectors and road cleaners employed by the Tibás Municipality, according to municipality spokeswoman Karla Vásquez.The garbage collectors were dismissed for their participation in a 15-day strike in July, when they claimed the municipality was not providing them with the necessary cleaning tools to do their job (TT, July 15).After five days without food, the protestors obtained the benefits they sought: a raise, along with assurances that they will receive their scheduled bonuses.The 13 strikers will go back to work on Monday, and received three days of paid leave to recover their strength, Vásquez said, adding that the other 27 fired employees returned to their jobs on Wednesday.In addition to the Tibás garbage turmoil,more than 80 thousand people living in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, Zapote and San Sebastián, in southeastern San José, were affected when garbage collectors employed by the San José Municipality protested a restructuring of personnel organized by the municipality last week, according to the daily Al Día.
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