“At long last, things are getting interesting”

Posted on | February 2, 2010 | 2 Comments

Last updated 2/4/2010, 5.30am PST.

SOME comments deserve to be posts. This is the case of the response today of Eyewitness News investigative reporter George Knapp to Sunday’s feature There will be blood and its account of recent judicial reversals in the plan of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to drive a nearly 300 mile-long pipeline to the feet of the Great Basin National Park in a quest for groundwater for Las Vegas.

Knapp wrote: “… Already, the Nevada Supreme Court’s monumental [January 28] decision is being characterized by SNWA minions as a minor speedbump, a temporary procedural oopsie that will be rectified in a moment or two. It is clearly more than that.”

It clearly is. As Knapp points out, legal remedy for pipeline protestors found wronged in the Nevada Supreme Court decision is likely to be decided by a district judge who in October voided water awards in three of five valleys targeted by the project.

Knapp, who in 2008 received the Peabody Award for his pipeline series, “Crossfire: Water, Power and Politics,” is one of a handful of seasoned observers of this now twenty year struggle. It took his eye to spot the critical intersection of the now two separate legal challenges facing the pipeline plan of Las Vegas water manager Patricia Mulroy.

The first decision, Carter-Griffin Inc et al vs Nevada State Engineer et al, which was issued in October by Nevada district judge Norman C. Robison, vacated water awards for three crucial first staging basins of the pipeline. As the Southern Nevada Water Authority convinced its board to appeal the decision, Knapp notes that the strategy has been to insist that Robison, who lives in rural Nevada, is biased against Las Vegas. This line from a SNWA spokesman quoted in an October 28, 2009 editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal captures the refrain. “During arguments in the case, Judge Robison asked, ‘When is Las Vegas is going to stop growing?’ That’s an agenda if we’ve ever heard one.” Three weeks later, when seeking permission to appeal the Robison decision during the November SNWA board meeting, Mulroy’s counsel told the directors, “We believe the judge ignored the evidence and improperly substituted his opinion.”

Knapp being Knapp, he puts it more colorfully:

“SNWA and its legion of lawyers have repeatedly slammed Judge Robison as some sort of biased rube who bent the law in support of his rural brethren. Every mention of his name in the pro-pipeline local paper includes a description of him as a ‘rural judge,’ implying that his scathing characterization of the water grab was based not on the law, but on his presumed fondness for barn dances, sheep turds, and Elly May Clampett.”

The second decision against the pipeline plan, Great Basin Water Network vs State Engineer, which was published on January 28, 2010, this time from the Nevada Supreme Court, found that the due process rights of citizens protesting it had been violated. That decision appears to invalidate all awards for the pipe spared by Robison. Knapp writes, “Now that the Supremes have taken things even further by pounding a wooden stake into the heart of the pipeline, I’m anxious to read the next salvo of spin.”

What looks like a sample of that appeared on Sunday, in the overflowing comment box of an abridged version of There will be blood that ran in the Las Vegas Sun. Credited only to someone going as “Belinda,” the comment takes up the cudgels for the water authority, asserting that “SNWA lobbyists didn’t err, but the staff of the Legislative Counsel Bureau did, trying to calm noise from legislators unfriendly to southern Nevada. LCB takes proposed language for bills and converts it into what LCB deems is legally appropriate wording … So any confusion over intent can be traced to (1) a supremely lazy group of justices in Carson City; or (2) LCB staff, for failing to capture plain-face language in a way that would withstand scrutiny by robed morons.”

“Robed morons.” That explains the need for a pseudonym. One might question word choice from an actual SNWA lobbyist or employee just as the authority is appealing the Robison decision to the very men in robes.

The supreme irony, spotted by Knapp, is that the only awards for the pipeline unaffected by the first Robison decision but left critically challenged by the more recent Supreme Court one, now look destined to go back to Robison.

Or, as Knapp puts it, “the same district judge who has been the target of scorn and derision from the haughty SNWA.”

The 7th District Court of Nevada confirms that Judge Robison is likely to receive the case.

“At long last, things are getting interesting,” Knapp concluded.

You said it, George.

UPDATE 2/4/2010: Click here to read Knapp as he expands on the tactic of belittling Judge Robison in It’s just a flesh wound in this week’s Las Vegas CityLife.

UPDATE 2/3/2010: Yesterday the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources included the following statement in its director’s report: Last Thursday the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a State District Court decision regarding water applications filed by the Las Vegas Valley Water Authority in 1989.  These applications relate to the importation of ground water from eastern valleys to Las Vegas.

In the ruling, the Court determined that past State Engineers have long misinterpreted statutory language (dating back to 1947) which requires action be taken on applications within a one year period.  While actions (motions, prehearings, etc.) have occurred many times on the 1989 applications, and the statutory language was amended in 2003, the Court remanded the case back to the lower court with specific instructions to reopen the comment period or have the applications re-filed.

As is common with major decisions such as this, the long term ramifications will be realized over time.  DWR is working closely with the Office of the Attorney General to interpret the decision and to chart the most prudent course of action.

In addition, in light of this decision, Utah’s Governor Herbert has placed an indefinite hold on approval of the bi-state Snake Valley water allocation agreement.”

CORRECTION 2/2/2010: The January 28, 2010 news report in this website on the Supreme Court decision “Las Vegas pipeline loses its water” stated that awards left standing after the Robison decision would be voided. This was incorrect. The remedy for the due process violation ruled on by the Supreme Court is unclear and has been referred back to the White Pine County District Court, which looks likely to refer it to Judge Robison, who in October voided awards for three of four basins on the pipeline track.


2 Responses to ““At long last, things are getting interesting””

  1. Las Vegas pipeline loses its water | Chance of Rain
    February 2nd, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    […] is unclear and has been referred back to the White Pine County District Court. Click here and here for follow-up articles. Category: Las VegasTags: chance of rain > Emily Green > Pat Mulroy > […]

  2. David Zetland
    February 4th, 2010 @ 6:37 am

    This case, more than usual, reflects that water policy is more about people and personalities than laws and numbers…

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