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HomeNewsCosta Rica Court Ruling Halts Controversial Cahuita Development Plan

Costa Rica Court Ruling Halts Controversial Cahuita Development Plan

Environmental organizations have sounded the alarm following a significant ruling by the Constitutional Court on February 16. The court declared admissible a constitutional appeal targeting the Coastal Regulatory Plan spearheaded by the Municipality of Talamanca for the Cahuita district.

The appeal, lodged by citizen Marco Levi, contends that local authorities, along with the Housing and Urban Planning Institute (INVU) responsible for drafting the plan, disregarded a crucial wetlands inventory report pertaining to the area.

In a joint statement issued by environmental groups it was alleged that municipal, INVU, ICT, and MINAE authorities sought to overlook the presence of vital coastal marine ecosystems. Allegedly, the intention was to repurpose these areas into parking lots, residential zones, and hotels under the contentious, now halted plan.

The concerned parties highlighted a 2021 study titled “Characterization and Delimitation of Wetlands in the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone of the Talamanca Canton Coast,” authored by Óscar Fonseca Rivera from the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), which was ignored by the authorities.

Moreover, it was revealed that MINAE officials attempted to bury the study, opting instead for a 2017 certification of Natural Heritage of the State issued by Edwin Cyrus Cyrus. However, the Constitutional Court ruled this certification insufficient.

In a landmark decision, the Constitutional Court mandated SINAC to finalize, within three months, the process to supplement the certification of Natural Heritage of the State in the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone of the Canton of Talamanca.

The report uncovered that the 13 wetlands in question span a total area of 165.12 hectares, constituting 34% of the studied Maritime-Terrestrial Zone. This area, crucial for ecological balance, was under threat of destruction under the proposed zoning of the plan.

The Municipality of Talamanca’s plan has faced widespread opposition from its inception, ranging from concerns about the displacement of families with longstanding ties to the area to criticisms of the municipality’s lack of transparency during the plan’s development phase.

This latest ruling adds to a series of setbacks for the controversial Regulatory Plan. Just last December, the Constitutional Chamber ruled in favor of the Association of Integral Indigenous Development of Keköldi, underscoring inadequate consultation with indigenous communities.

With the plan effectively on hold pending revisions, opposing groups contend that a comprehensive overhaul is necessary, including the incorporation of wetlands into zoning considerations. This would entail significant alterations to the entire territorial planning process prior to requisite public consultations and hearings as mandated by law.

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