Federal court rejects attempt to dismiss church’s takings claim in Amargosa Valley | Pahrump Valley Times

A ruling from America’s trial court for “takings” issues under the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights has rejected arguments central to the federal government’s case.

In an opinion and order filed Tuesday, Nov. 29, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Elaine D. Kaplan denied a government motion to dismiss the church’s takings claim, stating that the government’s arguments for dismissal “lack merit.”

Joseph Becker of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, who represents the church, called the motion “the church’s major victory over the federal government.”

“Judge Kaplan’s decision is a very large step forward for the Patch of Heaven church camp in what has now become a five-year-plus court battle between the church and and the federal government,” Becker said.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diverted the creek away from the Ministerio Roca Solida where Victor and Annette Fuentes, the leaders of the ministry, had founded the Patch of Heaven church camp. The agency cited the need to preserve endangered species, including the Ash Meadows speckled dace that inhabit the refuge.

The diversion also resulted in repeated flooding of the church’s property.

The federal government had argued that it bears no liability for the flooding and that the church had no rights to the water that had previously traversed its property.

Becker argued in the documents that the federal government violated multiple constitutional rights in one fell swoop in August 2010.

The Ministerio Roca Solida has since filed a complaint for the tort and due process and free-exercise claims in the U.S. District Court for Nevada. In 2012, the church also filed a takings claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, along with a motion to stay proceedings in that court pending the outcome of the injunctive relief sought in the U.S. District Court.

The federal government argued before the Court of Federal Claims that the plaintiff could not pursue all its claims. The Court of Federal Claims held that the church could not bring a takings claim in the Federal Court of Claims while seeking relief for other government transgressions in the U.S. District Court.

“Because of the federal agency’s dangerously negligent construction of the diversion channel, never competently engineered to accommodate rain or runoff waters, a mini-grand canyon now cuts through what were once lush wetlands,” Becker said.

The Nevada Division of Water Resources recently said that Roca Solida Ministry had vested rights to the water.

On Nov. 4, the state of Nevada ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return the water to its “historic path” within 90 days. The agency could face administrative fines of up to $10,000 per day until corrective action is taken.

Source: Federal court rejects attempt to dismiss church’s takings claim in Amargosa Valley | Pahrump Valley Times

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State orders feds to return water to private ministry | Pahrump Valley Times

Victor Fuentes, leader of the Ministerio Roca Solida, and Joseph Becker, director of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, stand in the middle of the …Victor Fuentes, leader of the Ministerio Roca Solida, and Joseph Becker, director of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, stand in the middle of the swath of land that had been carved away by repeated floods. Courtesy of Nevada Policy Research Institute

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to return water to Ministerio Roca Solida, a private church ministry located in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, according to the state.

On Nov. 4, the Nevada Division of Water Resources ordered the federal agency to cease diversion of water through the Ministerio Roca Solida parcel after the investigation found several violations of the terms of the ministry’s water permits.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diverted the creek away from the Ministerio Roca Solida where Victor and Annette Fuentes, the leaders of the ministry, had founded the Patch of Heaven church camp. The agency cited the need to preserve endangered species, including the Ash Meadows speckled dace that inhabit the refuge.

“Getting the water returned would be a major first step in making the ministry whole, after years of suffering litigation and egregious constitutional violations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Joseph Becker, director of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, who represents the Fuentes.

Becker argued that the diversion of the waterway and taking of the ministry’s vested water rights was done without the Clean Water Act permits, in violation of Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, and with no regard for the ministry’s use of the water for baptisms.

The diversion also resulted in repeated flooding of the church’s property.

The federal government, however, has denied any liability for the flooding and argued that the ministry had no rights to the water that had traversed its property.

While the order from the Nevada Division of Water Resources verified the institute’s claim that the ministry’s vested water rights were violated, the ministry continues to suffer “significant damage and constitutional violations,” Becker said.

“The ministry still suffered significant harm in the interim from the federal government’s actions, including repeated flooding and five years of flood damage resulting from the illegal water diversion project,” Becker said.

He called the state’s order a boost to the “takings” case against the Fish and Wildlife that was brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute for diverting water from the Ministerio Roca Solida. The case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Fish and Wildlife has multiple water rights within the refuge that are on file with the State Engineer. The entity said that it had acquired these permits “to re-establish historic natural drainage patterns and wetlands within the refuge.”

“Although the USFWS said that its intention in acquiring those permits was to re-establish historic natural drainage courses within the refuge, the evidence presented by the Division of Water Resources demonstrates that the source of the Carson Slough historically traversed through the Solida parcel,” Nevada Division of Water Resources said in the documents.

According to the order from the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must return the water to its “historic path” traversing the church property, within 90 days, or face administrative fines up to $10,000 per day until corrective action is taken.

Failure to take corrective action will result in the matter being referred for additional action available to the state engineer.

Possible penalties for noncompliance can include payment of an administrative fine not exceeding $10,000 per day for each violation, replacement of not more than 200 percent of the water used, and payment of the costs of the proceeding, including investigative costs and attorney’s fees.

Source: State orders feds to return water to private ministry | Pahrump Valley Times

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Church claims damages to property exceed $3 million | Pahrump Valley Times

The Ministerio Roca Solida, a founder of the Patch of Heaven church camp, filed a new takings claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., saying that the damages to its property have grown over $3 million since the diversion of the creek on the property.

In a claim filed on July 12, the Ministerio Roca Solida alleges an unconstitutional taking of the 40-acre property located in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and the loss of its vested water rights for the past 5 years.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diverted the creek from the property where Victor and his wife Annette Fuentes, the leaders of the Ministerio Roca Solida had founded the Patch of Heaven church camp. The agency cited the need to preserve endangered species, including the Ash Meadows speckled dace that inhabit the refuge.

Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation Director Joe Becker, who represents the Fuentes’, said the Ministerio Roca Solida filed three takings claims since 2010. The first two claims were dismissed with prejudice, which means that the plaintiff still has the right to further litigate when certain conditions are satisfied.

“(In this case,) a takings claim is a claim against the federal government where the government has taken private property, purportedly for a public purpose, without paying just compensation as required by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Becker said.

Becker argued that since the diversion of the creek, the Fuentes’ land and its appurtenances have been flooded four times – the type of flooding that had never occurred before.

“Because of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s actions more than five years ago, less and less rainfall now results in greater and greater flooding,” Becker said.

Erosion from repeated floods has carved large swaths of washes on the 40-acre property, according to the documents.

“And, because of the federal government’s dangerously negligent construction of the channel — never engineered to accommodate any rain or runoff waters — the damage has been compounding. A mini-grand canyon now cuts through what was once lush wetlands, and the significant improvements made to structures and the land for the benefit of young campers are being undone with each recurring flood,” Becker said.

A complaint stated that the Ministerio Roca Solida now finds it “highly problematic” to make its camp available to groups who have historically used the facilities, because less rain results in a greater likelihood of more severe flooding and more severe flood danger.

Becker said that the movement of the waterway and taking of the ministry’s vested water rights was done without the requisite Clean Water Act permits and in violation of FEMA requirements. Becker also said that the movement was done with no regard for the ministry’s religious use of the water for baptisms.

“Sadly, the damage done by this repeated flooding is now so severe, there’s no choice left but to hold the federal government accountable for a complete taking,” Becker said.

Source: Church claims damages to property exceed $3 million | Pahrump Valley Times

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