Officials began investigating the Hotel Occidental Grand Papagayo this week to determine whether the 169-room hotel is pumping wastewater into an ocean bay.
Eduardo Céspedes, director of health in Carrillo, said inspectors from the Health Ministry, the Liberia Prosecutor’s Office and the Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) took seawater samples for testing Tuesday.
Like the Allegro Papagayo, a neighboring hotel that was closed last week after it was discovered piping sewage into an estuary, the Grand Papagayo has been accused by its neighbors of pumping wastewater into ocean waters fronting a coral reef near Playa Buena, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
Both hotels are part of the Papagayo Tourism Project, the largest government-run hotel and villa development in Central America.
According to Céspedes, preliminary inspections at the Grand Papagayo revealed the contamination issue had been “addressed,” but he was cautious. “Often times, these pipes are not visible. The tests will tell us what is really happening.”
The hotel’s neighbor – Hotel, Condos and Villas Wafou – first notified the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), which manages the hotel’s concession, of the problem by letter in August.
The ICT waited two months to file the case with the Environment Tribunal. The tribunal stalled until last week, when its president, José Lino Chávez , said an investigation was underway.
Neither the ICT nor the tribunal notified the Health Ministry of the situation until last month, according to Céspedes, despite warnings of potentially serious health and environmental risks.
Céspedes could not explain why the central government had waited so long to notify his office.
The ICT, the hotel’s management and the tribunal did not respond this week to Tico Times requests for comment.
After the newspaper reported on the Occidental hotels, word spread quickly across such well-known Internet travel forums as The Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.com.
Prospective visitors panicked. Even after the Allegro Papagayo was ordered closed on Jan. 31, guests remained on site for days, unaware of the orders.
Lisa McIntyre, of California, in a letter to well-known Internet travel agencies Orbitz.com and Expedia.com, cites numerous irregularities she and her husband noted during their visit, including water shortages, trucks “coming and going from the property” and sewage problems.
If the hotel exposed their guests to an unhealthy sitiation, McIntyre writes, it “should not be excused” but should be handed “some sort of fines and imprisonment, loss of a business license or hotel operating permit.”
The government reacted to public outcry following the Allegro Papagayo closure by issuing a series of forceful warnings to other polluters.
Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides said the ICT and the other ministries will “aggressively inspect and analyze coastlines and other areas of the country,” to determine where else contamination is taking place.
The Allegro Papagayo, meanwhile, could reopen as early as March 2, pending repair of its current sewage treatment plant or construction of a new one.