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.
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.)