Belmont property owner Neal Jones has been waging a battle for several years over allegations of illegally drilled water wells and concerns regarding nitrate levels in that tiny northern Nye County town, going to multiple state agencies and other governmental bodies to seek a resolution but with little effect.
Most recently, Jones brought his concerns to Nye County, filing a nuisance complaint in August with the aim of having the Nye County Commission officially declare the wells in question as constituting a public nuisance.
After holding two hearings during public meetings in September and October and reviewing more than 500 pages of documentation submitted by Jones, the commissioners found themselves at odds with each other.
When discussion came to a close at the commission’s Oct. 1 meeting, the board was divided over whether or not to declare that a public nuisance existed as a result of the wells in question.
However, as was the case with the other entities Jones had approached for action, the Nye County Commission ultimately voted to dismiss his complaint, approving a resolution finding that nuisance conditions do not exist. The decision was a narrow one, with three commissioners, John Koenig, Lorinda Wichman and Debra Strickland, in favor of dismissal and two commissioners, Leo Blundo and Donna Cox, against.
Two of the wells that are the subject of Jones’ complaint are on single-family residential lots owned by the Numa R. and Dorothy K. Dessauer Trust and Motis Family Trust, while the third is associated with the Belmont Saloon, owned by Tracy Biyeu. An on-site disposal system at the Belmont Saloon was also a subject of Jones’ complaint. Each of the properties included in the complaint is less than half an acre in size and this seems to be the crux of Jones’ contention.
In the documents Jones filed with Nye County and the statements he made during the public hearings on the matter, he cited Nevada Administrative Code that dictates that a minimum of one acre of land is necessary in order for both a well and a septic system to be installed on a parcel. Additionally, that same code requires a minimum separation of 100 feet between any water well and septic system.
Therefore, Jones contended, the wells in question are in violation of the law. He also alleged that the on-site disposal system at the saloon was not properly permitted. Believing that this posed a threat to the water and health of those in the community through potential contamination, Jones said he began his quest to have his concerns addressed but to his frustration, his complaints have been ignored.
“We are asking the county commissioners, after reviewing the facts and evidence in this public hearing, to establish that the negligent actions of these property owners has met the criteria establishing a nuisance,” Jones told the commission at the initial public hearing, held Sept. 17, and he submitted extremely extensive amounts of documentation to support his arguments.
The property owners themselves have denied that they have committed any wrongdoing, with Donna and Edwin Motis as well as Numa Dessauer attending the Sept. 17 hearing to defend themselves against the allegations made by Jones.
Motis began by explaining that the spring from which her family drew their water started to diminish in 2012 and by 2014 she was concerned her property would not have water much longer. She said she spoke with a state official, who told her that she could not be denied the ability to drill a well, so that is what her family proceeded to do.
Motis also asserted, “Our well was drilled at the opposite side of our property from our sewer and is encased in a sanitary seal of 100 feet. Our well water has been tested four times since 2015 and has never exceeded the contamination level on any test.”
“We just drilled our wells in good faith, we didn’t do anything unlawful,” Dessauer added. “My nitrates are at the higher end, they are nine (milligrams per liter), 10 is the top but that is for a public well, not for a domestic well.”
The commission then concluded the Sept. 17 discussion and continued the hearing to its next meeting so as to allow the commissioners to go over the 500-plus pages of documentation that Jones had submitted that morning just before the public hearing began.
When reconvening the public hearing on Oct. 1, another lengthy round of discussion took place with Jones reiterating his previous statements and refuting those made by the owners of the subjects of his complaint.
Numerous others chimed in throughout the two public hearings to make their thoughts known, with some speaking in support of Jones and others voicing their support for dismissing the complaint. The final determination, however, was in the hands of the commission.
“At this time, no tangible evidence has been identified to create the urgency to construct a public water or sewer system by the community with four full-time households,” Wichman stated during the Oct. 1 meeting, going on to say she believed Jones’ complaint constitutes a private nuisance rather than a public one.
“A private nuisance is a civil matter and is outside the jurisdiction of this board. A public nuisance is something that threatens the health, welfare and safety of the general public,” Wichman continued, listing a variety of reasons for her position.
Namely, Wichman asserted that the only existing private water system and the few domestic wells in Belmont, which is located roughly 45 miles slightly northeast of Tonopah, are not within the commission’s jurisdiction and there was no evidence of sustained contamination in the private wells. Nor, Wichman proclaimed, was there any evidence that the saloon’s commercial septic system has failed. Furthermore, in order to establish a nuisance exists, the commission would have to determine the precise source of that nuisance and that had not been done.
Wichman then made the motion to adopt the resolution that a nuisance does not exist with Strickland offering a second.
Before the motion came to a vote, Cox interjected with her opinion, stating that she believed Jones’ concerns were valid and that the evidence that was presented was enough to show that a nuisance does exist.
“If we do not move forward, we could be held guilty of negligence and personally be held responsible,” Cox declared. “I’m not ready to be held responsible because somebody got poisoned by wells that came from other people’s septic tanks because they were illegally put on one-third acre of property.”
The remainder of the commissioners remained quiet at the second hearing and in the end, Blundo was the only other board member to disagree with the motion, which passed 3-2.
To review the complaint documents and supporting materials in their entirety visit www.nyecounty.net and click on the Meeting Center link. The information can be found under item 8 of the Oct. 1 commission agenda.
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org