Out of the original $10 million set aside from the 1986 Mesquite Lands Act for the development of a conservation plan, $7 million has been spent. That’s according to Mike Senn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor who appeared before the Mesquite City Council Nov. 10.
Do we have a plan after working on it for 13 years?
Are we any closer now than we were 13 years ago to getting a conservation plan?
What did the $7 million pay for?
Consultants and government bureaucrats who appear to not want a plan because once we have it, that’s the end of the gravy train.
Around 2000, the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service extorted Clark County and the City of Mesquite by saying no more development could occur until both the county and city developed habitat conservation plans and charged developers to pay for it.
The county hurriedly developed and implemented their plan and began charging developers a $550 fee per graded acre of development to pay for it. As of 2011, the county had collected close to $100 million and spent $49 million of it. Most of it has been spent on the endangered desert tortoise. Yep, that one. The city has sent over $1.7 million to the county under this plan.
The county decided administratively to not include in its plan two fish in a 16-mile stretch way south of Mesquite the FWS says are in danger. In fact, the County conservation manager said she didn’t think development in Mesquite was impacting the fish. The county and their consultants made the case to FWS that there was no impact to the Virgin River fish therefore they weren’t including it in the county’s plan. The FWS agreed by accepting the county’s list of endangered species covered by the county plan that didn’t include the two fish.
The city hired consultants, some to the tune of $2 million, to help write a second plan called the Virgin River Habitat Conservation and Recovery Plan – VRHCRP for short – sorta. It’s supposed to protect two fish in the Virgin River that are being threatened by invasive species coming upriver from Lake Mead.
Got that? The fish aren’t in danger from any development occurring in Mesquite. They aren’t in danger from anything occurring in the Virgin River from above Mesquite or below Mesquite.
Still, the Fish and Wildlife needs somebody to pay their bills so it might as well be Mesquite.
In 2007, despite not having a plan in place, despite questionable legal authority for doing so, the city began collecting from developers a second $500 fee within the city limits for each graded acre. To date, close to $350,000 has been collected.
So far, none of the money collected by the county or the city has been spent on actual conservation or mitigation measures in the city limits.
Seven million dollars and the fish are still there and living in danger.
Representative Cresent Hardy recently introduced legislation giving government entities the ability to tap into the remaining $3 million for implementation of conservation plans.
That’s nice but after $7 million we don’t have a plan to implement.
For 12 of the last 13 years city staff has been drafting the VRHCRP based on BLM and FWS recommendations to create the plan under ‘Section 10’ of the Endangered Species Act. The permit Mesquite needs to get from the federal government’s extortion plan would be good for years or decades. “Once it’s issued it’s considered a deal. The FWS cannot come back and say we want you to pay more money,” Senn told the Council.
However, a year ago Senn told the city he wants it to now create the plan under ‘Section 7’ of the ESA. The permit would only be good for the “life of the project,” Senn explained. “If something happens with the project or a new species gets listed, we have to re-consult on the project.”
Here’s one way to interpret those words: ‘If we give the city a Section 10 permit then we can’t get any more money out of this mess. But, if we give the city a Section 7 permit then we can always find something to complain about and keep up our steady stream of extortion dollars.’
That’s a pretty harsh depiction of seemingly innocent words. But, given the last 13 years of bureaucratic bumbling, changing criteria, wasting $7 million dollars on nothing, we’re going to stand by it.
During a recent Congressional hearing on Hardy’s legislation, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who chairs the Federal Lands subcommittee that held the hearing, was blunt about his support for the legislation over any administration objections.
The bill, he said, is “only before us because of bureaucratic pettifogging by various federal agencies. These are bureaucratically created problems that never should have occurred in the first place,” he said.
Pettifogging – dishonest or unethical in insignificant matters; meanly petty.
We couldn’t agree more.
Councilman George Rapson listed three alternatives the city can take: continuing with the plan under Section 10; starting over on the plan under Section 7; doing nothing.
We recommend the city and council choose the third option. After all, that’s what we’ve spent $7 million on over 13 years.