Criticism of Colorado State University’s center in Todos Santos, Mexico has escalated in recent months following allegations tying CSU to the actions of a housing developer that is pumping water from the town’s scarce supply.
The Mexico-based company MIRA is planning a housing development called Tres Santos that could triple the size of the town. In 2014, MIRA donated land and helped construct a center for CSU. MIRA feeds water from the town’s supply into a tank that provides CSU’s recently-opened center with water.
Since its announcement, MIRA and CSU have received criticism from locals who say the plan could drastically affect the town environmentally and socially.
Despite assurances of good will from MIRA and CSU, many residents insist that public relation statements are contradictory to what is actually happening. John Moreno, an attorney who has lived in Todos Santos all his life, said PR statements cover up many of the problems MIRA is causing.
“Mexico has changed. These guys (MIRA) are using old-school, old Mexico tactics — they basically ignore the community,” Moreno said.
Previously, MIRA stated they would not draw water from the municipal supply, but now have made an agreement with the municipal water company and added a new pump, calling it a short-term solution before the company constructs a desalination plant.
Todos Santos’ water supply is rationed. For most residents, water is only available every other day. The decaying pipe system is spotty, with many Sundays spent without water because of bandaid-like construction efforts.
“When they pump water to their holding tank, it drains the entire infrastructure,” Moreno said.
According to a statement from a PR group representing MIRA, the way the pump is installed makes it impossible for it to redirect water from the city system, and it is likely that residents are not receiving water because of sporadic city construction.
“Unfortunately, it’s easier for those opposed to development to spread untruths than it is to get documentation of the facts … but we’re working on it,” wrote Jane Ingalls, a PR consultant for MIRA, in an email to the Collegian.
The local activist group Truth Santos has negated much of what MIRA and CSU claim. In a press release sent out in August, the group claimed CSU was complicit in MIRA’s diversion of water and claimed many residents are not receiving water because of it.
In the press release, Truth Santos included information about an engineer sent by CSU to assess and check the progress of CSU facilities. In emails obtained from Colorado Open Records Act requests, Truth Santos found that the Fort Collins-based engineer, Keith Meyers, had seen a high level of incompetency in how MIRA was handling water.
[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”http://truthsantos.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/TS-CSU-Scan-of-January-TS-Municpal-Water-Supply-Emails-with-Highlights.pdf” caption=”E-mails obtained by Truth Santos”]
“Certainly there are challenges with water in Todos. However, I have not met anyone who is approaching the challenges in a smart, effective manner,” Meyers wrote in an email to CSU Special Projects director Kim Kita. “As with most developers, they are installing what they need to make their project viable … which may be at the detriment to what exists.”
In a second email response, Meyers stated, “I asked Juan Carlos (a MIRA representative) a lot of hard questions about how this would affect the existing piping. … He could not answer them. I do not think he understands distribution system hydraulics. I am worried that when the (CSU center) draws through pumping, it exhausts the supply for other parts of town.”
Truth Santos claimed CSU made no mention of the engineer’s concerns to MIRA. However, CSU representative Drew Wilson denied this claim and said the situation was remedied.
“When we learned a new pumping system would be required, we expressed concern about the effects this would have on the existing infrastructure,” Wilson wrote in a response posted to the CSU Todos Santos website. “MIRA responded by installing a holding tank (cistern) from which the pumps would draw.”
Larry Taub, a member of Truth Santos, said he questioned the legitimacy of Wilson’s statements given how early the holding tank was being developed.
Taub, a part-time resident of Todos Santos, has sent numerous open records requests to the University regarding the Todos Santos project. He has demanded emails, agreement documents and other texts related to the donation and development of the housing project.
From his research, he has made many claims about CSU and the housing developer, ranging from the issue of water to the legitimacy of the CSU research foundation, a separate non-profit group that the CSU Todos Santos center is housed under.
[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”http://rmsmc.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CSU-BOG-Presentation-01-October-2015.pdf” caption=”Claims made by Truth Santos that were presented to the CSU Board of Governors.”]
“In some sense, it was just a research project for me,” recalled Taub, who is a retired lawyer.
One of the main assertions Taub and Truth Santos made is that CSU is a marketing ploy from MIRA used to cover up many of the impacts the housing development could have on the community.
University responses, however, have insisted that the University is independent from MIRA and is able to conduct and publish research about any topic, including environmental and sustainability impacts.
Kita stated that CSU’s main mission through the Todos Santos project is “to cultivate generations of global citizens and thriving communities through collaboration, experience and exchange of knowledge.”
However, some even outside the Truth Santos group have found CSU’s role in the housing development to be questionable.
Sean Owens, an associate dean at the University of California Davis Veterinary School, lives part time in Todos Santos. Owens tried to relay his concerns to CSU President Tony Frank early on in the development process.
Owens said he told Frank in an email, “People are upset about your association with Tres Santos. … I think you’re being used as a trojan horse.”
In 1998, Owens was a graduate student at CSU and said he knew Frank, who was then an associate professor.
After sending his concerns to Frank, Owens said he was expecting a professional relationship, but never got one. Taub, who had filed CORAs for a variety of emails, sent Owens the email chain in which Frank sent Owen’s message to other CSU administrators.
“I can follow the email train of me being handled,” Owens said. “I was basically handled in a PR way, which really annoyed me, because I don’t think it was an appropriate response.”
Owens said CSU is a world-class university, but that because of the partnership with MIRA, they have tied themselves down.
“When you’re a guest in someone else’s home, you have certain obligations,” Owens said. “I don’t think that CSU or Tres Santos has met their obligations as being good guests, and certainly their transparency is lacking.”
Ingalls, the PR consultant for Tres Santos, said transparency and communication is one of MIRA’s goals moving forward.
“I think we have a lot of great information and facts on the Tres Santos side,” Ingalls said. “I think what we have not done is a good job of communicating those. You can rest assured that is a priority for the group now.”
Collegian Executive Editor Skyler Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @skyler_leonard.
Editor’s note: Colorado State University representative Kim Kita has responded to this article.