The Nemesis of Fallon
They Call Him 'Bob'
(Part II
)

 By Tim Findley
The Magpie

Pelcyger, in his later addresses at the University of Colorado and elsewhere, would relate that Senator Laxalt was faced down and eventually defeated by young Joe Ely, who had only recently become Pyramid Tribal Chairman in a convoluted, and some say managed, process that followed the untimely natural death of the elected chairman.
Pelcyger ever since has touted Ely as a troubled high school dropout who found "spiritual meaning" in his life and became a brilliant leader and extraordinary negotiator. Ely, the attorney said, became part of the "team" at almost the same time that Pelcyger succeeded Thorp as general counsel for the tribe.
Other tribal members, however, remembered Joe Ely as Homer Board, a young man who lived erratically on the reservation and took the adopted name of Ely before someone unclear added the alliterative touch of calling him "Joe." Ely still does not live at Pyramid Lake, but has indeed made a success of his life through his "teamwork" with Pelcyger.
The ad hoc committee still feels it was their testimony and their petition, not Joe Ely, that finally brought Laxalt to perhaps the most bitter defeat of his political career. It was only later that the committee members would learn that while they were staying in a "flop house," Pelcyger and Ely could afford better accommodations from the $30,000 they say Pelcyger drew from BIA funds for his appearance before Congress.
What really



finished Laxalt's dreamed-of Compact, however, was probably not the Native American opposition to it. It was, by Pelcyger's own account, his attempt to cut a separate deal in private with the Senator.
"But when the State of Nevada, Sierra Pacific Power Company and the other Nevada interests found out about it, they were furious," Pelcyger told young law students. "They told Laxalt they would rather have nothing than the deal we had negotiated."
Perhaps. But even as Laxalt was giving up on his Compact, say Pyramid tribal members, they were puzzled at how much Janet Carson of WestPac Utilities had become enamored of Ely and seemed to be schooling and mentoring him in his negotiation skills.
"We came to find out later that she was talking about how she was going to get in there and really tell Homer [Joe] about water and negotiating. Really teach him," said one tribal observer.
Harry Reid may have watched Laxalt's disappointment with some private glee. The ambitious Las Vegas Democrat had been unable to unseat the popular Laxalt in a previous try, but now Laxalt was retiring,


 
leaving the political door open for Reid, along with the slightly tarnished framework for a history-making settlement to end the state's century-long "war" over water.
Bob Pelcyger hardly had time to catch his breath. By then, he had established his own law firm in Boulder, Colorado, and was gaining a reputation throughout environmental and Native American circles. Ironically, perhaps, he was not licensed to practice law anywhere except his home state of New York, and still isn't. But for the federal plans he had in mind, he didn't need to be.
Reid was determined that his Democrat version of what Laxalt failed to achieve, even with Ronald Reagan's help, wouldn't be bogged down in Congressional hearings by sympathies for underdog Indians -- or frustration with them, as when even Nevada Representative Barbara Vucanovich had walked out on Pyramid Lake testimony.
The newly-elected Nevada senator intended to put all the pieces in place in his Senate Bill 1554 long before anybody could start picking it apart.
From the beginning, Bob Pelcyger was there to help.
"A lot of us didn't like it right from the start. It seemed like the same thing," said a Pyramid tribal member.
"But




Bob told us Reid would take care of us. He said we'd get millions. He said Reid was going to build us a new school just to start with." The school has never been built.
An independent analysis of the negotiations begun in 1988 for what would be Reid's bill recently concluded that, from the very beginning, Newlands Project farmers were marked out as "scapegoats." [Editor's note: The report, prepared for Congress and the President by the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, was the subject of a story in last week's EN.] This time, the sacrifices would not come from the tribe, but from the farmers who had so naively missed opportunities to become real political players in the game.
Pelcyger also makes little secret of his management of the process.
"We were kind of the center," he said. "So we not only had to understand the hydrology and the biology of Pyramid Lake, but also the ecology of the wetlands, how Sierra Pacific's system operated, what California's interests were, et cetera. All of the key players, except TCID, which eventually turned out not to be a key player, had to be satisfied or else there would not be a settlement."
To future


 
lawyers, Pelcyger recommended that, "You must essentially control the negotiations and decide who to negotiated with first, how to build from the ground up, and how to make sure that a key party doesn't pull out." TCID, as he said, was not a "key party."
Senator Reid would later claim the farmers walked out on negotiations for his bill, and he would blame them for being unwilling to sacrifice anything for the good of a settlement. The truth was that they were never meant to be anything more than the victims of it.
Knowing the science and hydrology of how to get it done was, as Pelcyger bragged, essential. By the time Reid's bill was under way, the Pyramid Tribe had hired its own consulting hydrologist, Ali Sharoody of the expensive San Francisco-based Stetson Engineering firm, and another close "networking" friend of Pelcyger's.
Like Pelcyger, Sharoody would claim liberal motives on behalf of Native American rights as the basis for his involvement, but he soon became a fixture in the company of Pelcyger in constantly advising the ever-changing tribal council, and in collecting hefty fees for his studies and advice. His contract with the tribe called for at least $120,000




a year to be paid to Stetson.
The report and recommendations to the tribal council from the tribe's Water Resources Board in 1993 modestly asked, "Mr. Robert S. Pelcyger, Tribal Attorney and Ali Sharoody, Tribal Hydrologist, for a 2-5 year 'map' of goals, activities, plans and deadlines with consideration for the Negotiated Settlement, TROA and implementation plans for the Economic Development monies for 1997."
So far as is know, no such "map" was ever prepared for the tribe.
The brilliant young foe of Laxalt, Joe Ely, had by then moved on to a new job, with Stetson Engineering.
Had Sierra Pacific not, after all, been so "furious" about the tribe's private negotiations as Pelcyger tried to suggest? Were those old "networking" contacts of Pelcyger's in the Justice Department and the Department of the Interior beginning to pay off?
Did Harry Reid, who seldom, if at all, took any part in the "negotiations" on his bill know any of this?
Public Law 101-618 slipped through the Congress at the last minute in 1990 by a margin of only a single vote. Barbara Vucanovich, who had walked out on the Paiutes five years before, personally carried the Act to President Bush for his signature.
For


 
all his promises, Senator Reid had actually paid little attention to tribal needs. His bill actually carries the name of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) as the real author of the settlement to the tribes.
But Reid had done what Laxalt could not. He achieved an act meant to bring an end to the "war" over water in northern Nevada. All that remained was to see that it was implemented. Reid could stand back as the boss of that and let the dirty work be carried out by others.
Bob Pelcyger was more than willing. With 101-618 in his pocket and with a network of fellow lawyers waiting to hear from him in the Justice Department, Pelcyger went on a relentless campaign that would take him farmer-by-farmer if necessary to the destruction of Newlands' influence over the Truckee River.
"We never could see how he was getting paid for it all," a tribal member said. "I remember when I first met him in the seventies or sometime: he was wearing sort of shabby suits. But now, he was all splendid and expensive-looking. And he would meet with the council before it was an open meeting and all we would see was what they already decided. The minutes never said what he was being paid."
It




was plenty. Both from the tribe, whose own new marina was a financial failure and whose schools were continuing to deteriorate, and from the BIA.
"It was all federal government money just going around and around through Bob," a tribal member said.
Meanwhile, Newlands farmers, harassed by endless lawsuits and other legal maneuvers from the tribal attorney, were forced to find funds of their own. By the beginning of 1997, their collective legal fees amounted to over $50,000 a month.
At last, in 1994, the farmers and their irrigation district had tried belatedly to reach out to the Pyramid Tribe as neighbors and find new understanding and perhaps a new accommodation in negotiations which Reid promised would re-open the entire issue.
But it was already too late. Clumsily, and unintentionally, the head of the TCID board insisted on calling his new friend, the tribal chairman, "chief" -- a racist insult now to most Indians, though not really meant that way by the TCID president. He was just trying to make friends with the tribe in an old-fashioned way.
Mervyn Wright, who had been head of the Pyramid Water Committee, was probably closer to the reality of what Pelcyger had built


 
up as Joe Ely's image. Wright really had brought himself back from trouble into a serious and widely-respected position. Even the farmers felt hopeful when he was elected tribal chairman.
But they didn't know all of it. Pelcyger by then was more determined than ever that tribal members not go off on their own in discussing the Settlement Act, and especially not with Newlands representatives. When the willing young Wright agreed to meet in just a round table discussion with them in Fallon, Pelcyger himself also showed up unexpectedly.
And even while Wright seemed to show such willingness to talk it over in 1993, he was reporting back to his own tribal council on his experience with the farmers.
"The chairman and myself were able to see TCID in their true state. The arrogance and stubbornness [sic] came out, and unfortunately they feel that all the water should be theirs and should not go to anyone else. The Interior department may start to tighten their grip on TCID and allow more water for Pyramid Lake," said Wright's report to the council.
The "key players," meanwhile, continued to try and work out the final details, and some of them were becoming uncomfortable. TCID's




consent is not necessary for agreement on a new Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) but the TROA is essential to the implementation of Public Law 101-618 by the end of this year.
At the monthly and sometimes bi-monthly meetings, the key players have begun to become evident. Fred Disheroon of the U.S. Justice Department never misses a meeting or fails to demand that restrictions be imposed on Newlands. Ali Sharoody of Stetson Engineering never seems to have to explain in what capacity he is representing the Pyramid Tribe. Janet Carson of Sierra Pacific patiently appears, aided by some $24 million directed her way by Senator Reid (to buy out the Truckee Division of the irrigation district as part of an upstream "water quality" plan).
State officials, though, including the state water master and the head of state fish and game, have seemed to grow increasingly nervous and even resentful of Disheroon's forceful demands that the federal government is in charge. It is not working as smoothly as Pelcyger had hoped it would with TCID out of the way. Even the young tribal chairman, Mervyn Wright, has expressed concern over the "modeling" of future river use that seems to favor


 
more and more control over storage by Sierra Pacific.
On the Pyramid Lake Reservation, there is some uncomfortable talk, too. Three good water years have seemed to bring back the cui-ui (which in Paiute, by the way, is pronounced with a swallowed syllable, more like "cooey ooey"). But the cost has been enormous in paying the fisheries manager, who now enjoys almost as much hidden power as Pelcyger himself.
What "more" water is directed to the lake has come mostly from the end to the drought. For all the lawsuits and political arm-twisting, the tribe




has not really gained more control over Truckee River water. Not nearly so much as has Sierra Pacific and the upstream developers.
There is talk again that termination is on the mind of Washington authorities, but no one knows for sure and most are too reluctant to ask their tribal lawyer.
Despite calls for it soon after passage of 101-618, and despite promises, there has never been a general referendum among tribe members on their approval of the "Negotiated Settlement."
"Too late," the old man said, staring at the river. "Too late."


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