Foe of pipeline finds plot in lost notebook

With several witnesses looking on, including one with a digital camera, Southern Nevada Water Authority staff member Andy Belanger removed the rubber band from the padded notebook and carefully removed its contents.

One by one, each document, map and handwritten note was run through a photocopier and returned to its place in the notebook. When a page was copied incorrectly, the duplicate was shown to the witnesses so they could see what it was before it was torn in half and thrown away.

The process took more than 15 minutes and was executed with the care of election workers or crime scene investigators. Watching from the doorway of the copy room, a water authority official couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s not often we have a whodunit,” he said.

Such was the scene on Thursday, after the authority board was presented with the folder full of maps, notes and other materials that went missing in White Pine County last spring.

Authority officials said none of the information was sensitive or even very interesting, but it certainly seemed that way to the man who returned it to the agency.

Former White Pine County Commissioner Gary Perea created a minor stir at the end of Thursday’s water authority board meeting when he used the folder to punctuate his tirade against the authority’s proposed pipeline to Eastern Nevada.

The Baker resident pulled the notebook out during public comment and said it included troubling information about staff members’ plans to bury damaging information about the pipeline project.

“I was given this folder last summer by an individual who thought I might find it interesting. I believe it was located on a dirt road somewhere in Spring Valley,” Perea said. “I was not sure what to do with it, because it was obvious that it had been dropped by mistake, and I didn’t want to get the owner in trouble. But I can no longer ignore what it says.”

Then Perea dropped his bombshell: “There are handwritten notes in the folder that say to ignore negative information, make everything positive, and to save ink (by) forgetting anything negative,” he said.

The owner of the mystery notebook said Perea got the ink part right.

“Those are notes for how to calibrate a color plotter so we can save the most amount of ink when we’re printing color maps and posters,” said Michael Wallen, an advanced research analyst for the authority’s data resources division. “If you’re going to try to save ink, I don’t see how that hurts Spring Valley.”

Wallen lost the notebook while he was working in White Pine County on the authority’s plans to tap groundwater in two basins there.

“Somewhere in Ely it disappeared. Whether someone took it or it fell off the truck while we were driving, I don’t know,” he said.

The folder contained a few basin maps and some spreadsheets of water rights, wells and springs.

There was a copy of a slide show about digital mapping and a doodle Wallen drew while trying to describe a natural spring to someone.

On one page was the résumé of a woman the authority never hired. On another was a list of contacts in White Pine County.

“Now everyone’s got the phone numbers for the Bristlecone and the Prospector,” Wallen said, referring to two Ely motels frequented by authority staff members.

Perea said he gave the notebook to board members to illustrate a point: They shouldn’t trust everything they hear from water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy and her fellow administrators.

“Please question your management in the information that they provide you,” he said. “Ms. Mulroy, it could be true that I am paranoid, but you have given me a good reason to be.”

Mulroy shrugged off Perea’s comments after the meeting.

“I think we’re going to see this at every meeting from now on. We’re into character assassination now,” she said.

Because Perea presented the folder to the board the way he did, its contents are now part of the authority’s official public record.

Asked what he thought about that, Wallen laughed and said, “Well, at least some of my maps got in there.”

He was particularly pleased to get back the padded notebook itself, which he bought at a conference of the American Society for Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing.

“I greatly appreciate that they returned it,” he said. “It cost me 10 bucks.”

Several water authority officials questioned why it took eight months for Perea to return the notebook and the papers inside. As far as Wallen is concerned, though, the timing couldn’t have been better.

“We’re getting ready to calibrate the plotter again,” he said.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean or (702) 383-0350.

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