Caribbean communities petition for Maritime Zone Law changes

February 28, 2014

Dozens of demonstrators from Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean left disappointed from the Legislative Assembly Monday after representatives failed to vote after the first debate of the Coastal Communities Territories Bill (TECOCOS).  The bill could change the fate of dozens of homes and businesses in the southern Caribbean that under current law will eventually be demolished.

The vote was delayed after the National Libertarian Party (PLN) refused to vote claiming that other items were removed or moved down the agenda in order to make way for a vote on TECOCOS.

“The PLN feels that our projects have been pushed out,” said PLN Lawmaker Fernando Mendoza.

The Maritime Zone Law, passed in 1977, restricts construction in the first 200 meters from the coastline. As it stands, the law would require the demolition of structures that stand within the 200-meter zone.

“Nearly half the town of Puerto Viejo is within 200 meters,” said Jorge Molina, president of the Southern Caribbean Tourism and Commerce Chamber. “We are just asking that the government leave us alone.”

The current law designates the first 50 meters from the high-tide mark of the coastline as a public zone that cannot be privately owned. The 150 meters beyond the public zone is restricted and construction in that section of land is only permitted with a concession from the municipality after an application process analyzing the social and environmental impact of construction.

These concessions can only be granted in areas designated as coastal cities that have a municipal zoning plan on file, like Puntarenas and Jacó. Coastal towns without this designation cannot have buildings within the 200-meter zone even if they were built before 1977.

“They want to take away the land that we have lived on for more than 30 years,” said Kendall Watson, a Limón resident who attended the protest. “We are not going to let this happen.”

The new changes would designate the communities of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo as coastal communities enabling them to create a zoning plan that could allow buildings in “Coastal Urban Zones” to stay within the restricted area.

If the new changes pass today’s round of debates they will move forward to another round later in the year.

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