New airport is part of Río San Juan development project

The Inter-American Development Bank is bankrolling a new airport that appears to be part of the development project in southeastern Nicaragua.

This is the area where Nicaraguan troops invaded Costa Rican territory to build a new mouth for the Río San Juan.

That may have taken Costa Rica officials by surprise, but the plan to build an airport just north of the invasion zone is old news.

The Nicaraguan government’s outlined the plan in July 2009. Since then one bid has been opened, but the project has not been officially awarded.

The Nicaraguan daily La Prensa revisited the project in an article Tuesday. It said a firm with the name of Edicro S.A is the apparent successful bidder to be general contractor for the project.

The full job is estimated at $14.7 million financed by the Inter-American Development Bank. The developing agency is the nation’s tourism organization, the Instituto Nicaragüense de Turismo. The project includes a 1,200-meter (3,937-foot) runway, two boarding areas, a control tower and terminal, among other improvements.

The airport project alone was priced at $7 million when outlined the plan in mid-2009. There are additional plans for development in the communities.

The site is in San Juan del Norte rather than the nearby Greytown because the selected site is higher in elevation, said La Prensa. The airport also would be suitable for Nicaraguan military aircraft.
The communities of about 1,900 persons subsist mainly on fishing and agriculture. The tourism plan envisions more than 30,000 air visitors a year, and other published reports liken the potential similar or better than Tortuguero, which is to the south in Costa Rica.

The key element to such a plan would be what the Nicaraguan troops and workers are doing. They have cleared trees dug a small ditch which locals in nearby Barra del Colorado predict will be scoured open by the flooding Río San Juan into a navigable channel. This plan eliminates some 30 kilometers of winding, silted-up and meandering river.

A new river mouth with quick access to the Caribbean gives air travelers something to do in the area, particularly if a large marina and lodging are developed along the interior section of the river. There is only one upscale hotel in San Juan del Norte now, the Rio Indio Lodge, which is said to be the best accommodations in the area.

What has not been announced is who might be ready to do further tourism development once the new river mouth and the new airport are assured.

The plan also gives another lever to Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who can exert pressure on the Inter-American Development Bank to cause Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to withdraw the troops.

Costa Rican officials have said the Nicaraguans have completed what they are calling a canal on the Isla Calero, Costa Rican territory. The remainder of the job appears to have been left to the river.

Once started, the new airport is expected to be finished in 18 months.

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