Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, November 22, 2010

You (still) Can’t Fight City Hall

Problems with a local Water Authority……

Mr. Steve Doyle wrote a very long report/opinion piece for AMCostaRica the other day. He titled his piece "When the approval process runs into lack of accountability." He started out by explaining that he has purchased some acreage in the area, and has plans to develop all but three acres for sale to others. He claims that he has no expectation to make money out of this effort, but does expect to offset his own costs. And, then he talks about how he is planning to put in what he calls infrastructure, mentioning electric, water, and roads. He reports that all has progressed well since last year, except the connection of water to the property.

He makes reference to how "The Volio ASADA (which he identifies as his local source of water) consists of selected local citizens serving as a board of directors making decisions on the management of their water lines and sources," and other things. It does appear that, while he says he made serious effort to prepare himself for his project, that he is still ignorant of how things work in Costa Rica, and that troubles me. He should be aware, if he has indeed done his homework, that his local water authority is not "a selected" "board of governors." In fact, if this authority is anything like ours, these folks are elected, not selected (and, there is a difference), and while they make decisions, their function is not quite that simple. They are first and foremost responsible for maintaining the water system, and ensuring that the members of the water district (paying customers) continue to receive an uninterrupted supply of potable water.

He complains that these folks are "by no means professionals, nor do they necessarily have expertise in running a coop or any other business enterprise for that matter." Actually, I think if he was aware of how they come to serve on the water 'board,' maybe he would not have had such high expectations. They are NOT businessmen, nor do they pretend to be. He goes on to say that he had taken great pains to be sure that water would be available to him, but that appears to have centered on talking to folks, rather than getting anything on paper. Beyond that, after he gets done excoriating the local ASADA, he then takes on AyA (the common abbreviation for the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos Y Alcantarillados, but he misidentified and misspelled the name of this agency), the federal agency that oversees water for Costa Rica.

My take on his explanation is that he did not adequately explain to the local water authority just what it was that he was expecting from them, and he may well have overestimated their ability to provide sufficient quantities of water to meet those expectations. He complains only that, after initial encouragement from the local folks, they pushed the final decision up to the national level. His apparent lack of knowledge of their proper name further suggests to me that perhaps he has not done his homework.

He complains that the local folks "could not make a move without the national water company providing their advice and counsel." Again, this indicates to me that he misunderstands this entire situation. The AyA is NOT a water company, but a government agency. The local water authorities around Costa Rica do indeed depend on AyA for their legal existence (I know that ours is inspected annually by the AyA, and cannot continue to exist without essentially renewing a license; incidentally, our local system always passes with flying colors, because we have some really good people running it). He talks about his project is going to require six water meters, and that right there suggests further complications. That's also interesting to me, because we don't use water meters up here in the boondocks, and we all just do fine.

OK, let me first provide some very general disclaimers: I know I am behind the curve on this one, as the guy wrote his piece in AMCostaRica some days ago now, and some folks, who are truly experts have already weighed in on this topic. I also know that I am not an engineer, not a developer, not a big land owner, not a 'realtor,' and I certainly have no dog in this hunt (or, horse in this race). But, I do live in Costa Rica, and I do know just a wee bit about how things are done here. I would suggest that one needs to fight fire with fire, and act as a Tico would act. I did not say to think like a Tico, but act like one. So, I have two scenarios for Mr. Doyle (and, yes, hind sight is always 20/20):

One, from the get-go, without ever mentioning that one is planning anything even remotely resembling any sort of 'development' (remember this is very likely to be a dirty word to a lot of people just now), only ask your local water authority for a water connection for your own three acres. You, to your ASADA: "One normal single household water hookup, please." Then, go from there. Go ahead and run whatever lines you think are necessary within the other seven acres, without hooking any of them up to anything. Wait for each new owner to seek his/her own hookup. Then, either share the cost, or pay their cost, or let each pay his own way (carry his own water, so to speak), whatever it takes to get the remainder of the properties hooked up as they are ready. This would have been the path of least resistance, also known as acting like a Tico.

Two, if you insist on doing everything on the up and up, aka gringo-style, you should have started with the AyA, and bypassed your local authority entirely. I say that because they obviously are not equipped to handle your needs on their own, anyway. Your engineer or attorneys should have approached AyA first informally, verbally, and then, as the need arose, submitted whatever written applications, requests for permits, etc., might have been appropriate. That way, they (AyA) could have come to your local people – on your behalf – and got things going much better.

Finally, when things go sour (and, they have a way of doing that in Costa Rica) do NOT resort to name calling, do not let anger take over your better judgment, and avoid confrontation (just like Ticos do). Yes, this means that I believe you have gone too far with your public slamming of AyA and the local ASADA (use of words like dysfunctional, poorly run, and unconscionable is very seriously counter-productive). Calmly discuss what needs to be done with your legal representative, your engineers, whoever is appropriate. Then, you might accomplish what you want. Also, keep in mind that all is not lost for you. This, too, shall pass. You will get what you need if you just patiently pursue it, one baby step at a time.

Oh, and I would avoid any reference to whatever good you think your project might do for the local community, whether you think you'll have a big economic impact, or provide lots of jobs, or improve the overall infrastructure. None of that really matters to your Tico neighbors. Just try to be a good neighbor, and avoid singing your own praises.

1 comment:

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