Water Authority to pay Bill Walters $500,000 for grass

The average valley homeowner gets $1,960 for ripping out a lawn and replacing it with desert landscaping. Stallion Mountain Golf Course collected almost $1.2 million under the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s turf-rebate program.

Now the authority is set to pay another $500,000 for the same landscaping work under a settlement of a lawsuit filed more than five years ago.

But perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the settlement is who is getting it: widely known developer and high-stakes sports gambler Bill Walters.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2008 by Community Bank of Nevada, which held a deed of trust on the golf course guaranteed by Walters. Bank officials claimed the landscape changes were done without their consent, and the turf-rebate payments from the authority should have gone to the bank instead of the golf course owners.

The situation grew even more complicated when the bank failed in 2009, leaving the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the courts to sort out the disputed ownership of Stallion Mountain and other legal claims.

Water authority spokesman J.C. Davis said the decision to settle the case doesn’t change the agency’s position on it. Authority officials still contend that the original payments made to Stallion Mountain were proper and went to the right people.

However, settling the case now will save the authority any additional legal costs and protect against a possible loss in court that could force payment of the full $1.2 million a second time, Davis said.

“It’s such an unusual set of circumstances,” Davis said. “We just don’t want that kind of exposure. It’s not worth it.”

Davis said the fact the money is going to Walters played no part in the decision to settle.

Asked if any of the original $1.2 million in turf-rebate payments wound up in Walters’ pocket, Davis said, “We are certain it did not.”

A message left for Walters at his office was not returned.

Water authority board members approved the settlement Thursday in a unanimous vote with no discussion.

Since the turf rebate program was launched in 1999, it has paid out $189 million in rebates and helped eliminate more than 167 million square-feet of thirsty grass, saving an estimated 9 billion gallons of water per year. That’s enough grass to make a standard, two-foot-wide roll of sod stretching two-thirds of the way around the Earth.

Golf courses have been significant players in the program, with 30 courses ripping out a combined 36.6 million square feet of turf. That’s roughly enough grass to make nine new 18-hole courses like Stallion Mountain.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.