PAPAGAYO, Guanacaste – The 86-foot yacht and the 164-foot Westport interrupt a waterline otherwise punctuated by a series of anchor piles that appear to pin down lengths of broad gangway and empty boat slips in the turquoise waters of Culebra Bay.
The two vessels arrived Monday, effectively inaugurating the Marina Papagayo, the latest luxury tourism amenity in the northwesternprovinceofGuanacaste.
“This is the most important project for northern Guanacaste,” said marina director Roberto Kopper.
Amid Costa Rica’s most torrid development period that has sent some megaprojects to the chopping block because of dried-up financing and new, tougher environmental regulations, the on-schedule opening of the $15 million, 180-slip floating dock and marine center is a conspicuous investment.
“We expect 30 to 40 percent occupancy within the first year,” said Kopper, who said that the arrival of each boat brings employment to the community.
“Our first arrival has already hired a local fishing team to lead them on a three-day trip and additional local help. They’ve also rented a car to tour the area.”
Dan Eaffaldano, the marina operations manager, expects 80 percent occupancy within two years, which he said will create job openings for dock hands, fuel dock attendants, maintenance people and service companies.
Meanwhile, hundreds of laborers are applying the finishing touches to the parking area and four-story marine center that by early January will house a restaurant, bar, apartments, and plush crew quarters.
A nearby vacant pad will be the site of the Marina Village, which will feature 500 homes, hotels, shops and restaurants, all slated to be completed in the next two years along with 200 more boat slips.
The entire project is a niche in the 2,300 acre Peninsula Papagayo, the umbrella development on the paradisiacal point that already boasts private estates, villas, condos and an 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course.
“The peninsula project’s internal environmental policy is very thorough and very strict,” said Kopper. He said that the marina used an environmentalist and a marine biologist to conduct an environmental impact study during the design period.
Gadi Amit, a local environmental activist, disputed the green claims. He said the marina is built too close to active coral beds and that the altered coastline will disruptCulebraBay’s natural current pattern, which he fears is already inadequate to deal with increased contamination.
“(The marina project) is nothing good for the environment,” said Amit. Eaffaldano said each boat slip is equipped with a vacuum sewage pump, and the marina has a sewage treatment plant on-site.
According to Kopper, the five-pump fueling dock is the only authorized maritime fueling station in Guanacaste. In nearby coastal coves, local boats lay anchor at will and use plastic containers to fuel up off of the beach.
“We have actually created a lot of marine habitat,” said Eaffaldano. “Look at all that bait fish,” he said, pointing to a spot of agitated water inside the marina’s rocky breakwater.
“The most important thing is to have small fish,” said Kopper. “And our (marine) species count is up.”
A skeptical Amit said, “Only time will tell what will happen.”
Marina Papagayo slips will accommodate boats from 35 to 200 feet in length. Kopper said the marina’s proximity to the international airport in the provincial capital of Liberia makes it an ideal location for international boaters.
The marine center houses five government offices that, if staffed, would make the marina the northernmost port of entry into Costa Rica.
Marina Papagayo becomes the second operating marina in Costa Rica. The other is the Los Sueños Marina in thebayofHerraduraon the central Pacific.
At least three other marinas are in advanced stages of development, all on the Pacific.
A marina at Flamingo, south of Papagayo, was closed in 2004 for environmental violations.
A concession awarded to build a new one is currently under dispute.
Another marina is being built in Quepos, on the central Pacific. Developers plan to open it next year.
The Bahia Escondida Marina in Golfito in the southern Pacific is scheduled for completion in 2010.