The Controversy of the Blue Wall Mudslide and Budget Implications
Updated: Mar 11
In July 2021, a former Las Huacas homeowner hired a contractor to excavate a long trench as the road curves near the blue wall. The project was undertaken by the
homeowner to bury cables and improve the view from the home. Unfortunately, a heavy rain in September 2021 contributed to a serious landslide at the trench line, creating a steep and dangerous drop.
A technical engineering report later completed by the Municipality of Nicoya concluded that:
The homeowner's contractor did not follow the technical plans for the work. Instead of multiple layers of bedding materials, they simply backfilled local soil.
The backfill was not properly compacted.
The break line of the mudslide matched the limits of the trenching.
Point by point, the homeowner's soil report was irrelevant or improperly done after-the-fact.
And finally, that the trenching work was completely responsible for the mudslide and severe road damage.
Sadly, the homeowner did not take responsibility for the mudslide after many efforts made by the LHCA to communicate with them and recoup a portion of the costs.. The homeowner has since sold their home to new owners and is no longer a part of our community - leaving behind tens of thousands of dollars in road damage.
As nearly half the road at the curve had fallen and heavy trucks and machinery were no longer allowed passage, LHCA was obligated to fix the road and prevent further road damage on that curve by building a large gaviones retaining wall. The LHCA has paid $60,400 as of January 2022 for contractor repairs and legal support. Sixty-seven percent of homeowners generously donated a total of $67,186 for the mudslide repair fund.
The LHCA has filed a denuncia against the homeowner and are awaiting a municipal hearing to see if there alternatives to remedying the situation with the municipality or the former homeowner. In light of our goal to be fully transparent with the administration and budget of the association, below is a detailed account of the blue wall mudslide.
Full Transparency of the Blue Wall Situation
Here is a chronological summary of events:
June 2021 LHCA learned that Mr. Dave “Willy” Williamson, the new owner of E17 and E16, the Blue Wall house, planned to bury the utility cables that interrupted the views from both properties. We expressed our concern that digging along the outer road shoulder threatened the integrity of the sharp slope, access to the hill and the community’s investment in asphalt.
June 29, 2021 Williamson wrote to LHCA, bolding added by LHCA: “The contractor, ICE, public power, Asada and other utility providers are closely working together with the government to ensure everything is completed according to their standards and codes of compliance. Each one of these organizations has a vested interest to ensure the project is done efficiently and properly to maintain the integrity of their services and the public road. “In the future should there be any issues we can evaluate it at that time. If it is caused directly from our project, we should rightfully take care of it, it falls outside the scope of our impact it should be mitigated by public road maintenance and or our community as it always has been.”
July 2-4 2021 Williamson’s contractor excavated a long trench from below the F section road opposite E17 through most of the blue wall curve. The contractor buried conduits in the trench, compacted the soil and built new concrete power poles and buried junction boxes at the ends of the trench.
Saturday, September 11, 2021 After very heavy rain the night before, daylight revealed a serious landslide along the Blue Wall curve at the trench line. The entire outside shoulder was gone in one area, creating a steep and dangerous drop. LHCA’s road leader, Denisse Lashley, and our security guards immediately denied passage to heavy construction trucks and limited travel to one-way passage. People were concerned about further erosion and road collapse. LHCA, Williamson, and contractors began discussions about stabilizing and repairing the damage. Contractor teams were on the ground Sunday, September 12. LHCA corresponded privately with Williamson about potential solutions and responsibility until he “went public” on the 14th.
Tuesday, September 14, 2021 Williamson wrote to the entire hill on WhatsApp chats making two points: his trenching work did not cause the slide and LHCA has focused on blame and accusation, not resolution. LHCA then filed a municipal complaint, a "denuncia", about the damage to the road and requested an investigation. LHCA learned that, because it did not own the damaged property, it had no standing under Costa Rican law to sue or place a lien on Williamson’s property for damage caused to the road and repaired by LHCA.
Thursday, September 16, 2021 Williamson wrote to the entire hill again, releasing the just-completed report done for him by a soil engineer paid by him. “You will see that according to impartial third-party expert analysis, the trenching had NO impact whatsoever on the landslide...” That day, two municipal engineers arrived to inspect the damage. Their job was to conduct an impartial investigation into the cause of the landslide. LHCA provided photos of the trenching work. Williamson’s contractors were present and argued their points and theories directly with the municipal engineers. Williamson’s contractors provided their soil analysis report to the muni for further consideration. LHCA declined to hire its own engineer and waited for the government’s impartial assessment of the slide. LHCA learned the municipality could not provide emergency funds to repair the road for at least two years.
Monday, September 20, 2021 A number of residents had been arguing that regardless of who was responsible for the slide, life-threatening dangers demand prompt action. LHCA was already working with the municipal engineers to review and endorse a contractor plan to build a rock basket wall and repair the road. LHCA also started collecting money for a “Blue Wall Mudslide” fund and, in the first week, raised about 25% of the costs.
Monday September 27, 2021 LHCA received the municipality’s technical investigation report on the Blue Wall mudslide. As described in the callout box, the government inspectors considered the views of Williamson’s soils expert, followed the evidence on the ground, and concluded that poorly done trenching work was entirely responsible for the slide and damage to public property.
The technical report also discussed regulatory irregularities. The trenching and cable-burying project required municipal permits for work on public property and a permit from and contract with ICE. The municipal report asserts, “The work was carried out illegally because it does not have the pertinent permits.” A subsequent letter from ICE to the municipality stated the contractor did not meet ICE’s requirements.
The municipal engineers delivered their report to the municipal counsel, Nicoya’s chief lawyer. She then prepared a legal analysis and recommendation to the mayor of Nicoya. She delivered a combined report to the mayor on November 11.
Tuesday, September 28, 2021 The municipality finally delivered written authorization to limit trucks to 15 tons and limit traffic to just the inside lane. Steve Jacobus and Dennis Erickson volunteered to take over fund raising for the mudslide repairs.
October and early November 2021
LHCA worked on three tracks simultaneously:
Securing plans and permits for repairs that would protect LHCA from liability if there were a future problem with the road repairs.
Raising the funds to pay for the repairs and legal costs.
Tracking the second stage of the municipality’s investigation, conducted by its legal office.
November 4, 2021 LHCA received the municipal permit to build the gabion wall.
November 11, 2021 The municipal counsel completed her investigation and reported to the mayor. Although Costa Rican law holds both client and contractor responsible for the quality of private works on public property, she focused on Williamson’s contractor. The report indicated the trenching work did not have required permits and caused damages to public property of approximately 39,000,000 colones, over $61,000. The report recommended that the mayor pursue recovery of the damages from Williamson's contractor. LHCA had already learned that, even if the municipality recovered damages after LHCA paid for the repairs, there is no channel for the municipality to reimburse LHCA.
November 22, 2021 Grupo CHA began repair work at the blue wall curve, paid by the LHCA community.
Friday, December 3, 2021 CHA finished the repairs. The hill road was safe and open to all traffic.
Sunday, December 5, 2021 LHCA learned that the Mayor of Nicoya was in Nosara. LHCA contacted him and invited him to meet in Las Huacas and view the completed gabion wall. The mayor told us he had already met with Williamson's contractor and the contractor told the mayor he had completed the Blue Wall construction! We clarified that the community association paid for the repairs with no help from Williamson or his contractor.
LHCA also appealed to the mayor, asking that the municipality not issue a permit to a contractor who previously ignored permit requirements. We were worried that Williamson's contractor could cause more damage. Williamson’s contractor showed up Monday morning with power equipment and crew. He showed a permit to two LHCA committee members, our guard, and the local police. By mid-day, the contractor had trenched in front of the gabion wall and reconnected conduits. He buried them with plain soil – again not adhering to the technical plans for such work. Our guard
Monday December 6th, 2021 Williamson’s contractor showed up Monday morning with power equipment and crew. He showed a permit to two LHCA committee members, our guard, and the local police. By mid-day, the contractor had trenched in front of the gabion wall and reconnected conduits. He buried them with plain soil – again not adhering to the technical plans for such work. Our guard documented the work with photos. In mid-afternoon, responding to LHCA’s communication with the mayor, the municipal attorney and senior engineer arrived at the blue wall site, met by LHCA’s president and several others. LHCA’s attorney joined the meeting by speakerphone. Williamson’s contractor returned with a work crew and joined the meeting.
The municipal engineer criticized the morning’s works for again not following technical requirements. The municipal officials said the contractor again worked without a permit. The permit he showed everyone in the morning was for construction work on a house. The municipal attorney directed him to do no further work on the site until there was a hearing in Nicoya to review the entire project. She said LHCA could participate in the hearing.
December 13, 2021 LHCA received its last email from Williamson. Since release of the municipal reports, LHCA had reached out to Williamson in several ways, without public confrontation, providing the documents and timeline that clearly showed his contractor’s responsibility for the damage. LHCA asked Williamson to reimburse the community’s repair costs as he had committed to on June 29, “If [damage] is caused directly from our project we should rightfully take care of it...”
Williamson dismissed the documentation that his contractor (1) worked without permits, (2) claimed falsely to have a permit on December 6, and (3) did poor quality work that caused the mudslide. He wrote “The documents which you consider foundational to your arguments could be easily dismantled and invalidated from any competent and independent third party.” However, the municipality, which is a “competent and independent third party”, prepared the reports that he dismissed. LHCA has concluded that Williamson will continue to deny his financial responsibility and we have no recourse.
December 17, 2021 LHCA’s attorney filed a notice with the municipality urging them to pursue damages from both Williamson and his contractor.
Looking ahead as of January 28, 2022 The municipal hearing promised on December 6 has not been held and is still to be scheduled. LHCA is considering whether and how to attend any future hearing. LHCA expects Williamson’s contractor to resume project work at some point with a legitimate municipal permit. It is LHCA's understanding that his prior permit violations do not affect a future permit. Costa Rican laws and regulations require the municipality to issue permits as long as the applicant meets the specified requirements. LHCA will press the municipality to assure that any further work on the trenching and cables meets all technical and quality standards. LHCA has paid $60,400 so far for contractor repairs and legal support. We collected $67,186 for the mudslide repair fund from 51 families, 67% of homeowners. The Williamson’s no longer live in our community. We welcome the new owners of E16 and E17 warmly as they should not be associated with the past owner. We hope they will become a part of our Las Huacas community and learn how special it is to live here.
PLEASE THANK OUR COMMUNITY MEMBERS WHO FINANCIALLY SUPPORTED THE ROAD REPAIR.