Pipeline project opponents' protests get lost in the din

There they stood, the critics of Southern Nevada's gargantuan water pipeline project, straining to be heard a few feet from afternoon traffic.

They couldn't have staged a more appropriate metaphor.

The deafening grind of passing automobiles on Main Street threatened to drown out the speakers who assembled Monday to tell the press, once again, that they stand in staunch opposition to the multibillion-dollar pipeline project proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. I've attended demolition derbies with more ambiance.

Engines roared, tires squealed, horns honked, and the occasional Harley rumbled by as Scot Rutledge of the Nevada Conservation League informed those present that the pipeline will be a scourge on the environment and the economy. He informed the newsies that his group has been against the boondoggle from its unholy inception.

"And here we are today, a decade later, and we're still fighting this same issue," said Rutledge, who at that moment was losing the fight to be heard above the cacophony of cars.

Launce Rake of the Great Basin Water Network explained that the coalition of environmental and consumer organizations was submitting the statements of more than 400 Las Vegans who were against piping 41 billion gallons of water annually from rural Nevada and Utah to Southern Nevada in the name of future development at a construction cost of as much as $15 billion. They're also sending State Engineer Jason King 21,000 comments from across the nation before Friday's deadline.

At least, I think that's what he said. Rake might have also said the Cubs will win the World Series this year, but I could barely hear him over the traffic.

Standing that close to a wall of noise makes it difficult to communicate your message.

During a lull, Rake outlined the absurdity of the possible $15 billion cost, adding that because of its financing, "over half the money would actually go to Wall Street. Is that where you really want the money to go? I don't think so."

Jane Feldman of the Sierra Club pointed to the pipeline's potential to create a crushing environmental impact, but then a helicopter flew over and the storm of traffic increased. She might as well have been speaking Swahili.

Marie Logan, Nevada organizer for the nonprofit Food & Water Watch, noted that the pipeline would only help developers at the expense of 2.6 million taxpayers and many thousands of water district ratepayers who would absorb the cost of the project.

Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, went on at some length to remind us that as a legislator he was in position to see just how unnecessary and potentially damaging the pipeline project could be.

And small-business owner Heather Fisher said that hurting environmentally sensitive areas would also harm the economy. Then another helicopter went overhead, and her voice was lost.

But you get the idea.

Greatly distilled, their message was this:

The water isn't needed in Southern Nevada now or for the foreseeable future. The pipeline is exorbitantly expensive, and the true price tag remains unknown. The potential for irreversible environmental damage is undeniable. Draining the water table in rural Nevada would cripple small-town economies and ruin a way of life.

Got it, once again. By now, the lonesome coyote and solitary desert tortoise can recite the group's rhetoric. But I'm wondering whether the message will be appreciated in Carson City, where authorities are known to listen to the highest bidder.

They call themselves a "coalition," but that makes them sound like armed revolutionaries. In reality, they're a collection of progressives who are shouting warnings at the top of their lungs in a state that has sold its soul to developers, quick-buck artists and pirate corporate captains of industry. Historically speaking, the odds are against them.

Will they be heard at a time of high unemployment and few prospects for new job growth in Nevada?

Their message has been consistent, but we'll soon see whether anyone in authority has been listening.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.