Chinese showing an interest in new Limón terminal

Representatives of the proposed $1 billion container-handling terminal in Limón will present project plans to visitors from the Chinese Development Bank.

The contractor is the Dutch firm APM Terminals.

“APM currently has eight terminals in China. This shows experience in dealing with the Chinese culture” said Rogelio Douglas, communications director for APM.

The invitation came from the government port authority, Junta de Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo Económica de la Vertiente Atlántica, said Douglas.

The Chinese are looking to build a free trade zone here in Costa Rica and the junta is believed to have offered 70 hectares of land near Liverpool, a community just outside of Limón proper. This comes before the seventh annual China business summit scheduled for Nov. 26 and 27 in San José.

“This new terminal will be the only container terminal in Costa Rica that can provide the modern infrastructure requirements to the Chinese,” said Douglas. “The Chinese are looking to ship their goods to the East Coast of the U.S. and other countries that only have Atlantic access such as Argentina and Brazil”.

Plans for the controversial terminal continues.

The Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental is expected to publish its resolution involving the project soon. APM officials hope that the agency will approve the final two permits needed to start, the environmental and construction permits.

A key issue is the hearing held in Limón Nov. 9.

“It was the union’s intent to delay the project and they failed,” said Douglas. “Shortly after 2 p.m. the director said that this meeting is finalizado and the hearing was adjourned.”

The taunting and ruckus created by the dockworkers union during the Nov. 9 public hearing in Limón was relatively peaceful when compared with the 2012 tire fires and destruction of shipping containers carrying bananas. Immediately after the start of the hearing union members yelled and made disturbing noises in an effort to drown out the speakers and have the meeting declared invalid, a tactic intended to delay the APM Terminal project start.

The union is the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Japdeva, using the acronym of the government agency. Members fear they will lose their government jobs if the privately operated terminal goes into service.

Some environmental groups already are challenging the hearing based on the termination in the mid-afternoon. These groups have other concerns than the union members. Court action is likely.

The hearing, a requirement of the Costa Rican government, was held to inform the public about the project and is now part of public record. The Secretaría Técnica had 20 experts on hand and APM brought in 12 of its own scientists to present and answer questions about the projects anticipated effect on the environment and concerns of the general public. All 600 chairs in the gymnasium were full.

Tensions continue to run high in Limón. Radio Bahia, a local radio station, dedicates one hour from 5 to 6 p.m. to discuss the project.

Most of the calls are from union members threatening anyone involved in the project and promising blood in the streets.

Douglas doesn’t admit to any personal threats, but he adds that everyone in his organization has private security at their homes and at their facilities.

The environmental groups are concerned about damage to mangroves and the effect of dredging the channel in Moín where the terminal will be built.

Sunday, Oilwatch, one of the environmental organizations, reported that the sociology professional organization has 12 questions about the project and the study made of residents.

The sociologists questioned, among other things, the methodology used by APM to determine sentiment among the residents of Limón. It also suggested that an alternative to granting the Dutch firm a 30-year concession would be to modernize the government ports in Moín and Limón.

These ports are among the most inefficient in Latin American and the world.

The terminal is the key element in an effort to rejuvenate the province of Limón. Government officials say the project would bring 8,500 jobs to the poverty stricken province. They also have said that the concession would generate $982 million for development and also $2.3 billion in taxes.

At the end of the concession period, the docks revert to the government, under terms of the agreement.

The dock workers union is particularly rambunctious. Strikes and protests are called frequently. About 80 percent of the country’s imports and exports pass through the ports.

Last week President Laura Chinchilla’s top minister criticized the union for participating in a national strike that prevented a cruise ship from docking in Limón with 2,000 tourists.

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