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 Or...'The story of an absurd conflict'




By: Andrés Benavente

 

During 2008 and 2009 the country witnessed an unusual conflict in the Northern coastal area of Guanacaste.

The disagreement started 3 years ago when the growing communities of Playas del Coco and Ocotal requested an improvement to the water supply.  Since the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Drainage (known as AyA by their Spanish initials) lacked the necessary resources to improve the capacity of the current wells and plumbing system, a group of 48 national and foreign investors offered to finance the construction of a new aqueduct.  This would be the first development of its kind built under the provisions of Article 38 of the Costa Rican Urban Planning Law, which allows government institutions to use private financing for projects that are for public use. The law also establishes ways for companies to recover their contributions later.

 

Since the aquifer mantle located under the neighboring town of Sardinal is much bigger and has better capacity to recharge than the insufficient coastal sources, AyA decided to bring water from this larger source to the distribution tanks on the coast.

 

So far, this is what AyA routinely does to meet the water needs in many other communities in the country. If there is no water naturally occurring in a town,  AyA  must bring it from the closest available source.


With the joint cooperation of the institution’s technical and legal team, and the funding developer’s consultants, a project designed to cover the area’s water needs for the next 25 years took shape. The solution that was designed took into consideration the long-term water demand so a new aqueduct would not be required in just 7 or10 more years. While this reasoning would seem sound and rational in any other area that was developing at an accelerated rate, in this case, it drew a lot of suspicion.

 

The real cause for the skepticism, however, was not actually the plan, but an underlying issue: In the process of developing this innovative project, AyA overlooked a serious variable, the people.  In hindsight, it is obvious to see the costly repercussions this childish omission has caused.

 

At the time, however, the individual in position of maximum authority of AyA  (a name everyone would rather just forget) , decided that there was no need to inform or involve anyone else, and with the exception of a few very selective meetings, the project took shape in almost total secrecy.

In summary, the communities were neither involved nor informed.


This was the flame that really ignited the conflict.



In the defense of  AyA, it’s fair to say that no community owns the water under their feet and that AyA, by law, has the right to make decisions about it with no need to ask anyone’s permission or even to inform the communities as to how the water will be distributed.

It seems intuitive, however, that one would want to inform the local community of any and all immediate plans that are being formed that would directly affect it.

Looking back at the outcome, it is clear that it would have been prudent to have some more communication with the communities and their people.

 


Sadly, as information surfaced, skepticism increased. Some of the wording in the project led to specific loopholes, which fueled controversy.

 

Those items that were not well defined were the items that the local Development Associations requested to be reviewed and modified. Plenty of water would have to run under the bridge before the local association’s demands were heard.

 

At the same time, the citizens of Sardinal were left dumbfounded when they first learned of the plan, practically by surprise, as the last stages of construction were occurring, right outside of their town.


When the townspeople discovered the machines working and large pipes coming from Sardinal towards the coast, they got riled up.



 
 

And a conflict that could have and should have been easily avoided...played out.

 

The previous closed-mouth attitude of AyA coupled with the

non-governmental financing of the work led to suspicion among the people of Sardinal, who after not receiving a clear explanation by AyA, took to the streets in protest.

 

Sardinal organized itself and mounted a tough opposition, which went included violent episodes of aggression against AyA technical personnel and the burning of machinery.  The opponents to the project finally managed to shut down the work by means of legal appeals.

 

As the lack of information continued, the rumors gained more influence and supremacy:

 

The aqueduct is only for the new developments!  The rich are taking our water!  Something stinks here! Sardinal will have no water for agriculture!  Coco locals who build a house will have to buy water from the developers!

 

Such were some of the headlines and captions flying around. These catchphrases were then irresponsibly reinforced by sensationalist newspapers that found an opportunity in the conflict to exploit nationalism, class struggle and people’s fear about the future, key ingredients to selling a lot of papers.

 

Another key aspect that fueled the controversy was the appearance of leftist leaders that landed here from other areas to help organize the opposition, the media coverage, the message and the legal actions.

With ample media coverage, Sardinal jumped to the national scene and became a sort of icon of social and political struggle. 

 

Suddenly, towns that had traditionally been closely allied, found themselves embroiled in a mess that very few really understood. Historically, Playas del Coco, Ocotal and Sardinal have been friendly and interdependent amongst each other. An important part of the economy of the Canton of Carrillo comes from the tourist and real estate activity of its coastal areas which generate an abundant number of jobs not only for the people of Sardinal but also for the people of Artola, La Libertad and San Blas among other surrounding communities. 

On the other hand, without this strong labor force, the blossoming coastal tourism industry would be in dire need.

 
        
Today, the aqueduct construction remains at a standstill stopped in the vortex of a legal and political whirlwind. The expectation of the coastal area to have the water necessary to continue to grow is already delayed by 3 years and the effects already are very visible, not only in the Coco and Ocotal, but also in Sardinal. 

These effects are not limited to the fact that there is currently barely enough potable water for those on the coast. It’s not just because some neighborhoods have no water during the day and must make do with only a trickle at night.  The present situation goes way beyond such daily concerns, and is having serious economic and social repercussions in the whole Canton of Carrillo.

 

Today, in El Coco and Ocotal, all the construction projects have been halted because the Municipality of Carrillo had to rescind the permits since  AyA is not providing new water hook ups.

Without construction and without new investments, the local economy has crashed.

 

The withdrawal of foreign capital has affected not only the real estate industry but also many small businesses and commercial places.  Many of these were barely surviving the international economic crisis and have now ended up “sinking” as a consequence of the local economic crisis.

The loss of jobs is notorious at all levels and where before there used to be 10 employees now one finds only 3 or 4.  Many of those who have been left jobless are not only people from El Coco but also residents of Sardinal, San Blas, La Libertad and Artola.

 

The slow pace of resolution has left the local economy at a stand still.

Today the solution is in the hands of the judiciary who appears to be waiting for a political signal to finally free the project.

In the meantime Playas del Coco has enough water to survive but for confusing reasons has been denied water for growth.

 

For a period of 18 months a new technical study was conducted with a monitoring committee comprised of all sectors, including the Development Associations.  This committee established that the aquifer mantle is immense and that it recharges very well.  In the end it was proven beyond a doubt that the water would be sufficient for everyone for many decades to come.

 

Because of the citizen’s demands and the results obtained by the monitoring, the project was modified, the quotas were adjusted and the wording of the escrow was  changed based on annotations made by the attorneys of the Development Associations of Sardinal, Playas del Coco and San Blas. 

Based on these modifications, these neighborhood associations withdrew their legal appeals, replacing them with total support for the project and a declaration of their absolute conformity with the terms under which it will function.

 

All doubts about the project have been clarified. All the myths were unmasked. All the suspicions faded away.

 

So… Why is water still not flowing to Carrillo’s coast?

Let’s review the facts:

 

-There is a NATIONAL LAW to stimulate this type of infrastructure solution and all its requirements have been fully met (and then some).

-It has been proven that the aquifer mantle has enough water for everybody.

-The town of Sardinal already got a brand new plumbing system paid by the same private investors.

-The work left to complete the project is less than 20%.

-The resources to finish the project are available.

-The finished work automatically becomes the property of the A y A.

-The initial opponents in the communities now support the project and already withdrew their legal appeals.

-It has been clarified that individuals will not pay the escrow for the right to water for their new homes.  Only new developers of commercial projects such as condos or hotels who build in the coming years will pay such fees as compensation to developers for their investment. The family residences will solicit their water connection directly to the AyA paying the regular rate that all residential connections pay in the rest of the country.

-A UNIVERSAL RIGHT of access to water exists and in the coast of Carrillo this right has been denied.

 


So, we repeat the question…What else is there left to do?

 

Actually, nothing... and for the people in the area, this is the most annoying part.


Both the Municipality of Carrillo and the AyA are ready.


The only thing needed now is that the project be liberated from the political-legal mess in which it absurdly fell into.

        
 

As a country interested in attracting foreign investments the spectacle being played out is not attractive at all.

 

I wonder if someone in San Jose or in the Presidential House is aware of the terrible image that this show is portraying?  Is no one there paying attention to the situation and the negative image this is depicting for a country that wants to attract investment?

 

If you know Doña Laura, please, take this magazine to her, send her the link to our website or the virtual magazine, upload this story on your Facebook or Twitter or get it to her in any other way you know of.

 

At this point she needs to be aware that in this corner of Costa Rica there is a black cloud threatening to dampen the hospitable image of the country.

While her government, Procomer, Canatur and the ICT are working very hard to attract new investments to the country a black cloud is hovering over Canton of Carrillo senselessly erasing such efforts.

 


This is no longer only an issue of water.


Now this situation has changed into an issue that could potentially affect the confidence of all future investments throughout the entire country.

 

This needs resolution now!






Comments
Rob Thompson (robrthompson@yahoo.com) 26/02/2015
I have heard that this is begining to come to resolution and numerous law suites are pending. does anyone else have any insight on this ?
Rob Thompson (robrthompson@yahoo.com) 26/02/2015
I have heard that this is begining to come to resolution and numerous law suites are pending. does anyone else have any insight on this ?
maureen (maureenkeyes9000@yahoo.com) 21/12/2012
Thank you Andres!!! Any news is well received.. I am sorry this saga continues to frustrate everyone. Please continue to inform us of any new (good or bad) developments. You are one of the few honest links we have and depend on>> Thanks again, and have a Feliz Navidad!!!
Andres Benavente (andres@revistautopia.com) 28/11/2012
Hi Maureen, Shelley, McD, DC and Virginia: Sorry for the delay on this info but has been very hard to get concrete answers to our questions. Sadly, the news are not good. Actually, almost nothing new from our last update. The Trust of developers run out of money to finish the construction and they are waiting for new developers to come and put the money to finish it ($1.1 million) . The clear problem with this plan is that not many developers will come to an area without water guaranteed, so is a circle that complicate the solution. AyA have no plan of put the money necessary and even if they decide to do it so, it would take at least other year and a half until the funds are actually available. Anyway, AyA official specifies that thanks to the improvements on the Coco wells, there are some residential connections available in Coco, and property owners could individually ask for a residential ( non commercial) house connection. I recommend to ask to your attorney to get more details on this option and start the process with AyA . This must be directly deal with AyA, not through the Trust. But even that high executive at AyA wasn't sure about how this option must be deal and if could have some legal problems with the Trust previously set. We will keep pushing at AyA for an alternative solution and will keep you in the loop in case of any news. Greetings to all and our deep apologies for the terrible way this has been managed. The Editor.
maureen (maureenkeyes9000@yahoo.com) 23/11/2012
Any news Andres??? Do you know if AyA has taken over the pipeline project? or is it still with the water trust and developers??? Thanks for your response
Shelley Sinclaire (s4347407@shaw.ca) 28/10/2012
Hi, We as well have invested our intire life saving's to this point in our life in this area. We have small children and are just a middle class family in Canada, with the dream's of being there. We wanted to be seddled in Costa Rica in 2008 perfacted timing for the children, now we are stuck here until they gradulate. Timing is everything... This water issue has changed our life plan as you can see. I sure when Costarician's come here to live they are giving water and on any other continent in God's green earth. We are invester's, and patrience to that area I don't understand why we can't have the water we were permitted in a contract and now are being held ransom for the money to finish. Alot of us would probably lend money to finish if we could trust that we would get our money back, but now trust is an issue. Unfortunitly because of these problem's alot of people have been turned off and if you ever make up for what has happened with this water issue, people have gone elsewhere, to build a trust again? You see all this info is all there for people to know when looking for a place to live. I have lost alot of sleep over what this has done to the people in our Country that I have had the pleasure of meeting and for ourselve's. The people responsible should do that is right once and for all. MAKE THING'S RIGHT AND PEOPLE WILL COME AROUND FOR THE FUTURE... Well I am not a writter and since spell check can't spell that great anymore, but please pull this together once and for all before all the people end up in Hudoras or some other beautiful Country. Your not the only ONE.Costa Rica.. Well for now over and out, I hope I have said something to make a different's. Shelley Sinclaire Thank You For Your Time!!!
McD (mcdermottmb@gmail.com) 27/09/2012
I own one of the condos affected by this water cluster ****. This situation has been the epitome of shortsightedness and dysfunction in government. For want of a few million dollars investment by the government, 10's of millions of dollars worth of real estate sits fallow, billions of dollars worth of projects never got off the ground (Steve Cases' Punta Cacique was nearly 1 Billion dollars alone) and the reputation of Costa Rica as a viable investment haven has been destroyed. Taking into account only 4 of the dozens of projects affected, representing 484 units, this fiasco has cost the local community nearly $90,000,000 and 500 jobs since the issue reared its ugly head!! And yet, the government still refuses to uphold their constitutional duty to provide potable water to every person living in Costa Rica. The government just spent $500,000 on the beach front boardwalk in El Coco!! Now don't get me wrong, the boardwalk is great, but where the heck are the priorities? That money would have been a far more powerful investment if it were made in the pipeline. A pipeline which, when completed, would result in an influx of thousands of more tourists annually and millions of dollars spent to prop up the decimated local economy! Shortsighted doesn't even begin to describe the governments failure to intervene. Contempt, I think, is a better word. The position of the government seems to be; "The gringos have money. If the gringos want water, let them pay for it. If they can't pay, too damn bad!" What the government fails to see is that this is not a problem which impacts only condo owners(predominantly owned by North Americans). This problem has caused tremendous hardship for the residents of El Coco, Hermosa, Ocotal and the surrounding towns in the form of lost jobs and stifled development. Again, we're only talking about a few million dollar investment; roughly 2.5% of the exit tax for a single year! If Costa Rica wants to salvage their reputation and kick start investment in Guanacaste, they need to step up to the plate and finish this project now!
McD (mcdermottmb@gmail.com) 27/09/2012
I own one of the condos affected by this water cluster ****. This situation has been the epitome of shortsightedness and dysfunction in government. For want of a few million dollars investment by the government, 10's of millions of dollars worth of real estate sits fallow, billions of dollars worth of projects never got off the ground (Steve Cases' Punta Cacique was nearly 1 Billion dollars alone) and the reputation of Costa Rica as a viable investment haven has been destroyed. Taking into account only 4 of the dozens of projects affected, representing 484 units, this fiasco has cost the local community nearly $90,000,000 and 500 jobs since the issue reared its ugly head!! And yet, the government still refuses to uphold their constitutional duty to provide potable water to every person living in Costa Rica. The government just spent $500,000 on the beach front boardwalk in El Coco!! Now don't get me wrong, the boardwalk is great, but where the heck are the priorities? That money would have been a far more powerful investment if it were made in the pipeline. A pipeline which, when completed, would result in an influx of thousands of more tourists annually and millions of dollars spent to prop up the decimated local economy! Shortsighted doesn't even begin to describe the governments failure to intervene. Contempt, I think, is a better word. The position of the government seems to be; "The gringos have money. If the gringos want water, let them pay for it. If they can't pay, too damn bad!" What the government fails to see is that this is not a problem which impacts only condo owners(predominantly owned by North Americans). This problem has caused tremendous hardship for the residents of El Coco, Hermosa, Ocotal and the surrounding towns in the form of lost jobs and stifled development. Again, we're only talking about a few million dollar investment; roughly 2.5% of the exit tax for a single year! If Costa Rica wants to salvage their reputation and kick start investment in Guanacaste, they need to step up to the plate and finish this project now!
DC (bdadeb@hotmail.com) 26/09/2012
Unfortunately, a little to late......Many projects have failed to deliver what was promised to investors in this area, which were completed projects with title. Because of this acquaduct fiasco, caused by the people from the town of Sardinal, Investors have gone elsewhere, Developers have abandoned their developements, Costa Ricans have lost out on jobs(Many from Sardinal) and the list goes on and on....It has affected so many lives. Investors have lost faith in Costa Rica. Who is to blame? I believe the Costa Rican Government should have stepped in to help this situation from getting out of hand and taking so long to resolve. Lawyers are the only ones that do very well in that Country...They filled their pockets with money that should have gone into finishing the acquaduct so these projects could be completed and delivered in a timely manner.....No money to finish the final phase of the Acqaduct? Your Government needs to find the money to finish it, its the least they can do to bring back foreign investment and confidence back into Costa Rica...but they need to act fast and do it NOW!!



 
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