Nevada Think Tank Announces New Case Aimed at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
CARSON CITY – A conservative Nevada think tank today announced the second case taken on by its Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), this one aimed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allegedly flooding a Pahrump church camp through negligent and illegal work on two streams.
The action is being taken on behalf of Victor Fuentes, a 1991 escapee from Cuba who in 2004 formed a church with his wife Annette in Las Vegas called The Ministerio Roco Solida Church, or Solid Rock Church.
The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s CJCL is filing a claim for damages on behalf of his church with the federal agency.
In 2006, Fuentes purchased a 40-acre, Wild West-themed camp in Amargosa Valley for $500,000, using a combination of member contributions and his own money. After purchasing the property Fuentes spent another $700,000 refurbishing buildings, installing a septic system and retrofitting elements of the camp — which was renamed “Patch of Heaven.”
By 2010, Fuentes said the property was booked “nearly every weekend” with church groups and campers. The main attractions of the camp were two spring-fed streams flowing through the property, and a swimming pond.
In the fall of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began rerouting the streams away from the camp. The case alleges the streams – which had flowed through the property since the 1800s – were diverted to go around the camp, cutting off its recreational and baptismal waters.
The agency completed the rerouting project in early December 2010. On Dec. 23, just before Christmas, rain raised the stream waters over the federal agency’s constructed banks, flooding Patch of Heaven. The camp was submerged in mud and muddy water, severely damaging the buildings and other property.
“It was devastating,” Annette Fuentes said. “Seeing all the work we put into [the camp] ruined by some type of government negligence was unbelievable.”
In addition to the structural damage, the Fuenteses say the overall value of the camp property is now significantly less. Not only has the camp been deprived of its water source, but it is now on a government-created flood plain.
The Fuenteses reached out to several government officials for help, but received few responses.
“The government acts like a separate entity from the people – they are there, and we are here,” Victor Fuentes said.
Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL, said the diversion of the streams was an illegal act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In an article in the Pahrump Valley Times in 2009, a federal official said the work was intended to restore the streams to their original channel.
The article quoted Cynthia Martinez, manager of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge complex, who said the alignment is the result of a 15-year management plan. The plan was discussed at public meetings in 2008, including one at the Amargosa Valley Community Center, Martinez said. She said the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t rerouting the channel but restoring it to its original path.
The restoration of the channel is designed to help the speckled dace, an endangered species of fish, Martinez said.
“The reason the refuge was established was for threatened and endangered species. One of the restoration techniques we have is to restore their native habitat. That means going back and reconstructing outflow channels from all these springs back in their hydrologically correct direction,” Martinez said.
It is the second action taken by the CJCL. In November it filed a lawsuit against the state of Nevada and the Public Utilities Commission alleging the employment of a state lawmaker violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.
Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, left the job about the time the lawsuit was filed, but the case is being pursued by the CJCL because of the ramifications for other lawmakers serving in state or local government public jobs.