Lawsuit Inc. strikes again

It’s too early for the crow or even the mockingbird to put in an appearance, but mourning doves greet the gray first light as a family of Gambel’s quail stirs in the ground cover. The eastern sky shows faint yellow and pink as, down near the mission, the homeless guys emerge from their bedrolls — men who once made a decent living in the construction trades, back when Nevada was still a “can-do” kind of state.

Over at the courthouse, the first environmental attorneys show up with their carry-out coffee cups, just ahead of the crows, waiting for the windows to open so they can file their latest actions, banning any further attempts at human progress in Southern Nevada. First in line today are the grim reapers of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, suing agents of the federal government for allowing plans to proceed for the development of homes and a golf course at Coyote Springs, in northeastern Clark County.

The federal agencies should never have allowed owners of the property to make plans to use their own water rights by digging wells on their own lands, the lawyers will argue in court, because such “groundwater withdrawals” could destroy habitat crucial to the Mojave Desert tortoise and the Moapa dace, a finger-length minnow found only in the headwaters of the Muddy River, 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

And the aggressors can’t lose — that’s the beauty of it.

Oh, this lawsuit may be tossed, eventually. But by then there will be scores of others. And the smug and spike-haired plaintiffs will still be reimbursed for their time and trouble, paid off with tax dollars by the very agencies they’re suing.

No federal judge has ever ruled, “You’re wrong; the minnows won’t be harmed; furthermore, I find no evidence that you really care one whit about these minnows — you never visit or feed them — that instead you’ve brought this action for no purpose other than causing expense and inconvenience to others, and therefore I’m charging you with all court costs and defendants’ attorney fees — personally.”

As predictable as the sunrise itself, another morning, and another progress-destroying shakedown lawsuit have come to Nevada.

“It is our contention that they are putting the Moapa dace at greater risk of extinction,” explains Rob Mrowka, who once worked for Clark County but is now billed as “Nevada conservation advocate” for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federally protected desert tortoise also faces habitat loss in Clark and Lincoln counties as a result of large-scale groundwater pumping and the residential development it would sustain, Mr. Mrowka argues.

The group on Tuesday sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management 60-day notice of its intent to sue. Such notice is required for lawsuits brought under the Endangered Species Act.

As part of its multibillion-dollar plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from as far as 250 miles away in White Pine County, the Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to tap water beneath the Coyote Springs Valley and in the Muddy River.

Separate from that effort is the 43,000-acre Coyote Springs development along U.S. Highway 93, about 55 miles north of Las Vegas.

At the moment, the development includes only a few basic roads and a golf course that opened last spring. Eventually, though, developer Harvey Whittemore hopes to turn his property straddling the line between Clark and Lincoln counties into Nevada’s newest city, complete with several hotel-casinos and as many as 160,000 homes.

Build-out is expected to take decades, but home construction could begin in 2010.

When the Center for Biological Diversity files its lawsuit 60 days from now, it will seek an injunction to halt groundwater development in the area until the case can be argued, Mr. Mrowka says.

Anyone hoping to build anything useful to mankind knows that such lawsuits have become inevitable — almost as though the green extreme can’t imagine how anything beneficial to the human species could possibly take place without irrevocably harming “nature,” in some way.

So far, the Center for Biological Diversity has not sued any of our local maternity wards, arguing that by allowing more human beings to be brought onto the planet, they “put the Moapa dace at greater risk of extinction.”

But give them time. All great extremist movements have to start somewhere.

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