Government’s priority roadway is still a disaster

Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación photo
New roadway opened up more land for monoculture of pineapple.

The latest official survey of the controversial Ruta 1856 shows not much has changed.

Employees of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación flew over the area last week and released a report that said the roadway has deteriorated considerably.

This is the emergency route that is a priority in the Laura Chinchilla administration. The Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación has responsibility for the public land along the northern border with Nicaragua. The flight was mainly to see where there has been environmental damage or where corrective measures should be taken.

In July the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo gave a handful of public agencies 10 days to come up with a plan to fix the many environmental problems that observers found during a tour of just 49 kilometers, less than half the route. But many of the problems remain, said the Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación.

For example, there still are trees stacked up for potential lumbering. Bridges still are collapsed and there are suggestions of illegal activities in the zone. One new problem became obvious during the overflight, said the agency. That is the expansion of agricultural area for the production of pineapple. Photos taken during the flight show large tracts of land ready for planting.

The expansion of agricultural land endangers existing patches of forest, said the agency. What it did not say is that the runoff from the pineapple fields frequently results in pollution of nearby waterways due to the use of agricultural chemicals.

Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación photo
One of several bridges found to be collapsed by
the air survey.

The photos distributed by the agency shows that little has been done in response to the July mandates from the Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo.

The Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación did not say why the flight took place when it did, but there was a crew of La Nación reporters on the roadway preparing a report on the condition. That report published Sunday said that in some places the road was impassable.

The government of Nicaragua also has made the roadway an issue. The international border is the south bank of the Río San Juan, and Costa Rica is carrying a case in the International Court of Justice over an invasion into the Isla Portillo by Nicaraguan troops. That took place in October 2010, and there has been no resolution of the claims and counter claims.

Costa Rica appears to have lost legal and public relations ground because of the environmental damage caused by the roadway. Nicaragua renewed the environmental attack last week when officials sent information to the U.N. Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization about alleged damage. The area is one of international importance for it biological resources.

The highway, named Ruta 1856, is mainly dirt and gravel. The roadway appears to be very vulnerable for the onslaught of the rainy season starting in April.

This is the same roadway that is the object of multiple criminal investigations. The project was declared an emergency so that contracts could be let without competitive bidding. There have been arrests of low-level government workers. There have been hearings in the legislature where officials from various agencies cast blame on each other.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad had taken over the $38 million project from an assortment of private contractors, but the Consejo itself is under investigation, too.

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