• The Star Staff

Vega Alta residents accuse PRASA of taking advantage of communities that build their own wastewater

By The Star Staff

A Vega Alta community has accused the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) of taking advantage of private communities that build their own wastewater and water pumping stations and thereby save money by placing on them the monetary burden of operating and maintaining a public service and sharing it with other PRASA clients.

Estancias de Cerro Mar, in a lawsuit against PRASA filed over the weekend in U.S. District Court, said it has learned via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that there are 220 privately constructed and owned pumping stations in Puerto Rico, similar to the Estancias Pumping Station, that are also being appropriated to serve and benefit PRASA, “which has developed and maintains that illegal practice to improperly save tens of millions of dollars a year in operation and maintenance, forcing others to provide public services to PRASA’s clients, while PRASA profits from the services provided by these privately constructed and owned pumping stations.”

Estancias de Cerro Mar Inc. sued PRASA and its executive director, Doriel Pagán, for causing the community to become insolvent by taking their property without “just compensation via the unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious implementation/use of its Regulation of Permits for Construction Plans of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer.”

“Estancias’ Pumping Station is connected to PRASA’s system. PRASA has illegally implemented said regulation to force Estancias to operate and maintain its wastewater relay pumping station so as to subsidize PRASA’s operations in the Cerro Gordo Ward of Vega Alta with the effect of appropriating Estancias’ capital and pumping station to pump the Cerro Gordo Ward communities’ sewage to PRASA’s wastewater treatment plant in Dorado,” the community said in the lawsuit. “In sum, Estancias has and is being forced to use its private property and capital to provide a public service to the Ward’s community which PRASA should be providing.”

Estancias has been forced to operate and maintain its pumping station at a cost of over $5 million, leading Estancias to insolvency, the suit says.

“Indeed, by administering its Regulation of Permits in a manner that forces Estancias to provide the community and PRASA with services at Estancias’ sole cost, PRASA receives significant economic benefit from said services, as it charges the Cerro Gordo Ward’s community monthly sewage fees, Environmental and Regulatory Compliance Fees and Special Fees in part for the services rendered by Estancias without compensation,” the community said.

Estancias developed a residential urbanization in the Cerro Gordo Ward called Las Palmas de Cerro Gordo and comprising some 175 residential units. To secure the necessary development and construction permits for the Palmas urbanization (Urb. Palmas) project, Estancias was required, among other things, to design and construct the community’s rainwater collection system, wastewater collection system and a wastewater relay pumping station to serve the development’s 175 residential units. All design and construction costs for that infrastructure were paid for exclusively by Estancias and such infrastructure was to be transferred or donated to the Municipality of Vega Alta and/or PRASA.

PRASA required the development and construction of the Estancias Pumping Station to relay Urb. Palmas residents’ wastewater from PRASA’s wastewater collection system to PRASA’s miles-long main sewer line, which carries Cerro Gordo Ward’s sewage eastbound to PRASA’s wastewater treatment plant in the town of Dorado.

Upon completion of Urb. Palmas, the wastewater collection system was automatically transferred to PRASA per operation of law but the end result of the regulatory scheme imposed on Estancia for the development of Urb. Palmas is that PRASA receives and benefits from the use of Estancias’ privately built water and sewage infrastructure, free of charge, and PRASA also benefits from the exclusive right to charge the people of Puerto Rico fees for water and sewage services provided by Estancias’ privately built infrastructure.

PRASA has refused to compensate Estancias for the costs of operation and maintenance of the Estancias Pumping Station, assume its operation and maintenance, or accept Estancias Pumping Station, the suit says.

“By refusing to accept the same it forces Estancias to operate and maintain the Estancias Pumping Station and provide a public service to the community at Estancias’ sole cost, while PRASA benefits from said operation and maintenance, to the tune of millions of dollars,” the lawsuit says. “Additionally, by continuously shifting the requirements for acceptance, PRASA has deprived Estancias of any meaningful opportunity to challenge PRASA’s arbitrary and capricious refusal by any administrative or judicial forum. PRASA’s decision to not accept the Estancias Pumping Station and to refuse to cover its operational and maintenance costs is final.”

Estancias has been unable to cover the Estancias Pumping Station’s electricity costs, causing the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to cut off electric power to the station. The station has been working with an external pump and an emergency generator while Estancias has attempted to elicit PRASA’s help to cover the electrical service bill. PRASA has refused to provide any help, the suit says.

Meanwhile the water utility charges residents thousands of dollars for water use, according to the lawsuit.

At the request of the island Housing Department and the municipality, in good faith, Estancias agreed to allow the Housing Department to connect 146 residential units of Villa Alegria to the Estancias Pumping Station pending the construction of their own wastewater system. PRASA accepted the transfer of the Villa Alegria pumping station but not Estancias.

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