Newspaper column: Your property rights taken by a federal agency? It could happen to you

In 1957, Frank Sinatra warned in song, “Keep an eye on spring/ Run when church bells ring/ It could happen to you.”

Since one federal agency or another controls at least 85 percent of Nevada, one day it could happen to you. You find yourself downstream — literally or figuratively — of one of those agencies, with your property and livelihood in jeopardy, only to discover your property and livelihood are less important than some minnow, bug or weed.

It happened to Victor Fuentes, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and Elko Daily Free Press.

In December 2010 Fuentes’ land, 40 acres in the middle of the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, was heavily damaged by flooding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had rerouted a stream but it overflowed its banks during heavy rain.

Annette and Victor Fuentes pose next to a channel running through their church camp in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in 2009. (Pahrump Valley Times photo)

The property is a retreat for the Ministero Roco Solida Church (Solid Rock) and the stream had been one of the major attractions for visitors to what they called Patch of Heaven. Fuentes is the pastor of the church and operator of the camp.

A year later the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL) — a division of the Nevada Policy Research Institute — filed a claim with USF&W for actual damages in the amount of $86,000, claiming “negligent and lawless actions” by the agency caused the flooding.

The agency never even acknowledged receipt of the damages claim. CJCL has since filed lawsuits in two federal courts.

In January, USF&W published an environmental assessment that proposes restoring natural and historic hydrology to the area by removing a dam.

Fuentes replied to the assessment that this “would inevitably result in a permanent or regular flooding of our private property resulting in a permanent ‘taking.’” The Fifth Amendment prohibits taking private property without just compensation. (Fuente’s reply to environmental assessment: Fuentes comments)

Though the USF&W claims it wishes to return the water flow to its “original” stream beds, Fuentes notes it is using 1948 data to determine “original,” when maps dating back to 1881 and an 1891 biological inventory show settlers in the area using the water to grow crops on private land granted at the time of statehood in 1864.

It could happen to you.

(Read the entire column at the Ely or Elko websites. For more accounts of government waste, fraud and abuse in Nevada go to Watchdog Wire-Nevada.)

6 comments on “Newspaper column: Your property rights taken by a federal agency? It could happen to you

  1. Vernon Clayson says:

    Anyone out there believe the delay and actions of the US Fish and Wildlife Service were taken without consultation with Nevada’s members of the Congress?? Anyone wonder if the church was established as tax exempt, let’s hope so, it’s a small church on a small piece of real estate, they probably couldn’t bear another broadside from another federal agency if they have to apply now. When Fish and Wildlife Service speaks of removing a dam from this spring fed stream are they speaking of the natural dam at its source” Does anyone in government consider unintended consequences, they would discomfit Pastor Fuentes and his flock but what would it do to the little squiggly creatures that have adapted to the ages old flow?

  2. Rincon says:

    Unless one claims that all dams are to be maintained by the governnment in perpetuity, they should come down when they are no longer useful. Anyone that builds in a spot that was opened up by the creation of a dam is taking their chances, but not to worry. When it floods, FEMA will come to the rescue at taxpayer expense, just like it does for all the others that build in low lying areas.

  3. Everything was fine until the feds started playing god.


  4. Rincon says:

    Playing God by building dams? So the dams of our nation should never have been built? I doubt if private enterprise would have ever gotten into that game since they could not have found a realistic way to profit from the water usage and flood control benefits. Even if they had, then they would have been the ones playing God.

  5. […] a bureaucracy for your water rights or to fight a bureaucracy that has made your land worthless by diverting water from it or to be told what kind of food your school may serve or to have millions of dollars flow […]

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