Refuge Manager Exits Baptismal Stream Fight

     (CN) — The Ninth Circuit ruled that a church camp in southern Nevada that once used a diverted stream to baptize its devout cannot sue the federal manager responsible for the diversion to put the water back.
     Ministerio Roca Solida, doing business as Solid Rock Ministry, had sued the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for diverting a stream that once coursed through its camp property on a slice of land in Nye County, Nevada.
     The parcel of land included a large marsh and a “delicate ecosystem,” which was “destroyed by peat-mining, ranching and crop production during the 1960s and 1970s,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on Wednesday.
     When the federal government obtained the nearby and troubled Ash Meadows Refuge land in the 1980s, the Fish and Wildlife tried to restore it by diverting water sources for irrigation back to their natural channels.
     Roca Solida had bought the 40 acres of land in 2006, built a church camp and used the stream for baptisms in Nye County — one of Nevada’s largest counties by area but least populated when compared to its powerhouse neighbor, Las Vegas in Clark County.
     Nye County is also one of 11 Nevada counties where prostitution is legal.
     Ash Meadows Refuge manager Sharon McKelvey set to task and began to divert water from the stream, which dried up the church camp’s property.
     The religious group balked, claiming in a lawsuit that the diversion caused at least $86,000 in damages to its property when the first rain after the diversion was created overflowed.
     It also made constitutional cries, claiming that its religious rights were being trampled.
     McKelvey moved to dismiss herself from the action, arguing that the church had failed to state a proper claim against her because it didn’t demand damages from her and that she was entitled to qualified immunity as a federal employee carrying out orders.
     The trial court denied McKelvey’s motion, leading her to file an interlocutory appeal in 2013.
     Ruling on McKelvey’s appeal, the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday ruled that McKelvey should have been dismissed from the church’s action because only the feds have the power to return the creek to the church’s property.
     “In this case, only the United States — through its officers — has the power to take the action that Roca Solida seeks: returning the stream to its previous path,” McKeown wrote. “The Ash Meadows Refuge manager might be capable of effecting the remedy Roca Solida seeks, but McKelvey as an individual has no authority to do so.”
     The panel did, however, keep one door open for the church.
     “Roca Solida may yet be able to obtain the equitable relief it wants, just not against McKelvey as an individual,” McKeown wrote.

%d bloggers like this: