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Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio gets extension to clean up

February 27, 2009

Manuel Antonio National Park will stay open, for now.

Local businesses and tourism outlets breathed a sigh of relief Friday after Health Minister María Luisa Avila gave the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) a four-month extension to resolve the park´s longtime sewage contamination problems.

Avila announced the decision after touring Manuel Antonio Friday with officials from MINAET and the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA). The Health Ministry had given MINAET until Thursday to correct the problems at the park, which included mosquito-breeding standing water, a garbage dump on site and sewage leaks from the bathrooms near the park´s most popular beach.

While park administrators had resolved the first two issues last week, MINAET and local business leaders sought an extension to resolve the sanitation problems, which they said could not be solved before the Health Ministry´s 10-day deadline. According to a statement by MINAET, portable bathrooms will be installed for tourists while construction begins on new, permanent bathrooms and a sewage treatment facility for the park.

Greasing the wheels will be ¢120 million (about $214,000) from the Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT), half of which will fund the sewage treatment plant, while the rest will be earmarked for infrastructure improvements, including new buildings to house park rangers.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 tourists attend the park every day, generating over ¢1 billion (nearly $1.8 million) last year in revenue. That money is put into a general fund and split among the country´s national parks, however, leaving meager resources for the country´s second-most visited park, park administrators said.

Richard Lemire, president of the Aguirre Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, expressed gratitude for ICT´s assistance and the Health Ministry´s understanding, but warned that park operations must not return to business as usual.

“Obviously, that won´t be enough,” Lemire said of the ICT funding. “We´re still very concerned with the basic administration of MINAET.”

For its part, MINAET said it is conducting an internal investigation to determine how conditions have deteriorated so badly at Manuel Antonio, and how funds appropriated for the park are being used.

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