Has Las Vegas water authority been playing fast and loose with the facts about its ranch property?

A lawsuit filed in Clark County district court this past week resurrects allegations that the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been lying to ratepayers about the profitability of a string of ranches the water district purchased several years ago in Lincoln and White Pine counties in order to acquire their water rights for potential piping to Las Vegas.

According to Courthouse News Service, “retired” SNWA controller Randall Buie has sued the water district, saying he was forced out for refusing to falsify reports that would make it appear the seven ranches were profitable when they were actually losing money.

Spring Valley ranch land (SNWA photo)

In 2007 and 2008 SNWA bought 23,000 acres of ranches for a reported $80 million, well above market value at the time, according to 2013 reports by KLAS-TV, Channel 8 investigative reporter George Knapp.

According to minutes from a 2012 SNWA board of directors meeting, the district was claiming the ranches had earned an annual profit of $260,000, but both the lawsuit and a whistleblower interviewed by Knapp claim otherwise.

Buie’s complaint alleges the ranches were losing $2 million a year. “From the moment they were purchased, said ranches have been unprofitable, contrary to representations by defendants to the board of directors, ratepayers, and the media,” Buie is quoted as saying.

Buie claims he was “harassed and bullied into assisting in creating special ranch reports” that were false.

According to Knapp’s source, SNWA employee Debra Rivero, the ranches’ expenses increased from $500,000 in 2007 to $850,000 in 2012. She told Knapp SNWA reported it sold $1 million worth of hay, but failed to account for expenses such as fertilizer, irrigation equipment and employee time. She also claimed she was harassed and threatened with a cattle prod.

Buie’s suit says he told his employers in 2012 he would no longer produce false reports, and a year later he was told he would no longer be controller and was given the choice of demotion or retiring. He retired in March 2014. The suit accuses SNWA of “breach of contract, breach of faith, retaliation, constructive discharge, wrongful termination, breach of contract and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” according to Courthouse News Service.

Buie’s attorney is listed as longtime Las Vegas attorney Matthew Callister, a former Las Vegas City Councilman.

So far the courts have blocked the water authority’s efforts to pipe rural groundwater to Las Vegas. Should the project be built, it is estimated Las Vegas water rates would triple and the groundwater where the ranches are located would dry up.



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