By Johnny Hernandez
SOUTH TEXAS — It’s kind of interesting and ironic that as you turn off the main highway leading to this subdivision, there’s a sign out there that reads, ‘Welcome to Sweet Water Estates…country living at its best,’ that’s just a farce,” said Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott at a recent press conference in Nueces County.
According to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), residential developer Tracy L. Long, from Corpus Christi, has been unlawfully selling residential lots in a subdivision called Sweet Water Estates in Nueces County near the Texas-Mexico border since 2006.
He has failed to install water and/or wastewater facilities, replat the lots to install such facilities, and provide financial assurance for such installation as required by law. Yet Long has illegally sold at least 15 lots ranging in price from $10,000 to $20,000 each.
“Here in Texas, we believe in the American dream and want everyone to have access to it,” said Atty. Gen. Abbott. “That’s why we have laws in the state of Texas against ‘colonias.'”
Colonias are subdivisions in certain regions in the state of Texas, mostly near the U.S.-Mexico border, that lack basic essential services such as access to a water supply, adequate sewage facilities, an adequate electricity supply and adequate roads.
In 2005, the Texas Legislature added Nueces County to the list of 28 counties along the Texas-Mexico border that must abide by the state’s colonia prevention law. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county.
“Tracy Long violated the colonia laws of the state of Texas by creating this subdivision development and failing to provide necessary services such as access to water access to sewage,” Atty. Gen. Abbott reiterated. “Because of that, people are literally living a nightmare.”
Under the colonia prevention laws, when is sold for residential purposes, it has to have water and waste-water facilities. Developers also have the option to provide financial assurances for those installations.
According to the OAG, Mr. Long has done neither. Except for those who have used their own money to pay for installation of these services, several of the other buyers are no longer living there because they don’t have the means to fix the problem. Instead they have had to walk away from their investments and away from their American dream.
“Sometimes that American dream can turn into a nightmare when people who strive so hard to build a home find that they’ve been duped into getting something far less than what they thought,” said Atty. Gen. Abbott, “especially when the lot they purchased is lacking in basic services.”
Daniel SaldaÃ±a is a resident of Sweet Water Estates in Nueces County. He and his wife bought a lot about three years ago for almost $14,500 without a water connection and adequate wastewater services. He spent thousands of out-of-pocket dollars for access to these essential services to make the property habitable.
“I’ve been working on my house for close to about a year and-a-half and actually have paid for everything on this lot out of my own pocket,” said SaldaÃ±a. “The only reason we haven’t been able to move in is because I’ve spent most of our money on water, electricity and a septic tank.
SaldaÃ±a hoped to be in his recently purchased property by the end of December, or as soon as he is able to recuperate from his losses with his own money.
The lawsuit against Long and Sweet Water Estates is seeking a legal injunction to prohibit Long from continuing to sell more lots. It is also seeking a court order to require the developer to fulfill his obligation to fix the problem with those who have already purchased lots. In addition, the lawsuit is seeking civil penalties for violations of the colonia laws.
This is one of five cases in Nueces County the OAG has filed this year. Border and Nueces County area home buyers are being asked to check with county officials to confirm if the property abides by colonia prevention laws and the basic essentials.
Those living along the Texas-Mexico border and Nueces County can file complaints with the OAG against unlawful developers or sell- ers at the attorney general’s Web site (www.texasattor- neygeneral.gov) or by calling (800) 252-8011.
The OAG also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, offering detailed data on more than 2,000 colonias in 29 counties. For this and more informa- tion on Atty. Gen. Abbott’s colonias prevention efforts, click the Web site’s “Texas- Mexico Border” page.