The Virgin Valley Water District has been dancing around the issue of a new fee for the Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan, particularly how much to charge for it.
Currently, A $500 HCRP fee is already included in the myriad of impact fees and surcharges levied against developers and home builders by the City of Mesquite.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is requiring this fee.
Now, they want more from the Virgin Valley Water District.
It's double dipping, plain and simple.
Worse, the feds are using strong arm tactics to force the water district to add this fee.
In 2008, I attended a water board meeting in which a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was as blatant in his extortion as I've ever seen. He point blank told the board that if they didn't impose this fee, they would have a hard time getting any more wells drilled or pipes laid in the area. That's because, as the rep explained, the feds would require what's called a "Section 7 Consult" for any future work. It's a protracted review process that can tie up a project for months, if not years. At that meeting, the rep said that if the water district imposed the fee, the feds wouldn't require the consult. He also said that, if the water district didn't do this, the feds would also do a "Jeopardy" filing on any future water projects in the area, another review process that could delay a project.
For the last few years, the water district has held off imposing the fees, mostly because there haven't been any new water applications coming in. As long as we're not building homes or businesses, or drilling wells, there is no compelling reason to take care of this.
But the hope for this community is eventually people will again want to start building here.
So the district board has been trying to figure out how to impose the lowest possible fee and still make their federal blackmailers happy.
The amount of the fee is problematic. The feds say a fee must be imposed, and placed into an account, but they don't say how much of a fee, how big the account has to be, or even what that money will be used for.
Think about that.
We are basically being forced to pay a fee to fund a program that doesn't even have a plan for how the money will get spent. "Just gather the money, we'll figure out what to do with it later" is basically the process.
This is extortion. There is simply no other word for it. And the extortionists are getting away with it because they are the federal government. While we pretend to be a democracy "of the people, by the people, for the people," the truth is that the feds always hold all the cards.
So the water district is left in the unenviable task of being forced to be the bagman for the USFWS, making their "collections" like the bent-nose guys going from shopkeeper to shopkeeper to gather their "protection" money.
For the last two months, the water district has been struggling to decide how much is enough.
At the last VVWD meeting, a city official showed up and pleaded with the board to get this done and start making their "payments." It felt like a cowardly shoemaker begging the fruit stand owner to pay up, afraid the Mafia is going to torch the whole block if this last holdout doesn't get on board.
Next week, the VVWD board will take up this sticky question again.
So, how much should they pay?
To quote from the extortionists playbook, the answer comes from Michael Corleone himself, in Godfather II.
"My offer is this: nothing."
We shouldn't agree to charging one thin dime.
We shouldn't agree to charging one thin dime.
The feds, the city, and the water district have already squeezed landowners and developers to death with their impact fees, connection fees, plan review fees, and dozens of other taxes and expenses. To add one more fee to the cost of building a home makes it that much less appealing for anyone to build here, or to buy here.
It will be one more nail in Mesquite's coffin.
The water district should follow the lead of board member Ted Miller, who has been adamant in his refusal to bend over for the feds. He is a hero, one of the few politicians still willing to stand up for the people.
If the feds want to push this issue, then the answer should be simple and firm:
See you in court.
There are times when public money must be spent to defend and protect the public.
This is one of those times.
The water district has one of the best attorneys in Southern Nevada. If he's not enough, go hire some more attorneys.
Yes, it will be more expensive than simply imposing the fees, but sometimes the right thing to do is to fight, even if it costs you. Principle must be upheld. More importantly, somebody has to stand up to these leech-like bullies and stop them, or else they'll simply continue to squeeze little communities like ours because we've shown ourselves repeatedly to be pushovers.
They say you can't fight City Hall. The truth is, City Hall can fight City Hall, and that's what this would be: a battle between government agencies.
Hopefully, word would get out to the rest of the state and the rest of the country: "Look at this extortion being perpetrated by the federal government." As Michael Corleone said in Godfather I, "the press would love a story like that."
It's time for us to stand up and tell the feds "no."
We cannot back down against hoodlums looking to hurt our town.
Not even when the hoodlums are dressed in red, white, and blue.