Ministerio Roca Solida Iglesia Cristiana is a small, mostly Spanish-speaking congregation in Las Vegas, Nevada. Led by Pastor Victor Fuentes, who escaped the horrors of Castro’s Cuba for America, the Church has been fighting for 7 years to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) from repeatedly flooding its camp located in rural Nevada.
The Church owns a serene 40-acre parcel in Nye County, Nevada surrounded entirely by the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. After purchasing the property in 2006, Pastor Fuentes, with the help of volunteers, built new buildings and improved existing structures on the property with his own hands, expending more than $700,000 in materials, septic systems, and other improvements. With the completion of those projects, the facility was renamed “Patch of Heaven.”
Pastor Fuentes would bring troubled youths from Las Vegas out to the camp to help turn their lives around. The congregation also used Patch of Heaven for retreats, church camps, and baptisms.
Patch of Heaven had historically been served by two spring-fed streams. In addition to watering the trees and shrubs and filling the camp’s swimming pond, the streams supplied and served as baptismal waters of special significance to the Church. It provided, “an oasis soothing to the soul and an ideal setting upon which to reflect upon God and His word.”
Enter, the FWS. Without obtaining requisite permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or following the mandates of the National Environmental Policy Act, FWS undertook a spiteful project which diverted the aforementioned streams around the camp from their long historical (pre-1900s) route through the Church camp.
Less than three weeks after the diversion channel was completed, on December 23, 2010, the newly re-routed waterway jumped its banks and sent a torrent of mud and water across the Patch of Heaven, severely damaging buildings and other property with a layer of slimy muck. Estimated property damages from the flood were in excess of $90,000. Despite FWS’s initial argument that the flood was an unpredictable 100-year occurrence, the Camp flooded three more times from 2011-2016, bringing the property damage up to nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
In addition to damaging the property through the flooding, the diversion project significantly reduced the property value, not only through loss of the historical desert spring-fed streams to the property, but also because of the constant threat of flooding that resulted from the spiteful and careless work on the diversion project. Because of FWS’s construction of the diversion channel, which was never engineered to accommodate rain or runoff waters, a mini-Grand Canyon now cuts through what were once lush wetlands.
Not only does FWS refuse to pay for the damage it has caused or restore the stream so that the Church can enjoy its water rights, it callously refuses to fix the design flaw in the diversion canal. After four floods, the Church is under constant siege. It it clear that the FWS does not want the camp as a neighbor and will heartlessly allow the congregation to suffer until the courts enforce the Church’s constitutional rights.