LAS VEGAS -- Before the economy tanked, Coyote Springs, some 60 miles North of Las Vegas, was to be a new city in the desert.
But today it may be better known for its lawsuits than its world class golf course.
Although most of the legal wrangling involves who owes what to whom, a senior executive is alleging environmental abuses.
A national sports writer described the area as barren, breathtaking and beautiful.
The golf course at Coyote Springs is practically the only piece of developed land in what was to be a massive city, approved for 16 golf courses, tens of thousands of homes and commercial amenities.
Environmentalists such as Jane Feldman said she doesn't exactly share a golfer's enthusiasm for the project.
"It is leap frog sprawl development at its very worst," said Feldman, of the environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club.
The 43,000 acres of remote desert is also home to environmentally sensitive plants and animals, including the endangered desert tortoise.
"There's a recognition within the Endangered Species Act that no matter what you do there's going to be impacts that need to be mitigated, that you have to make up for," she said.
Yet a federal lawsuit filed by the former president and CEO of the company behind Coyote Springs accuses his bosses of skirting environmental regulations.
Brad Mamer is seeking more than $500,000 in damages for a variety of employment-related issues.
Among Mamer's claims: He said he witnessed the installation of nonpermitted septic tanks around the golf course in violation of state law and possibly the federal Clean Water Act.
Then, according to the suit, when Mamer expressed concern about the tanks, they were removed to "cover-up" any violation.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Dan Gerrity, who has no connection to the lawsuit, explained how septic systems work.
"In cases where it's permitted, it should be safe," he said.
Using three main parts, the tank separates the solids from the wastewater and stores them at the bottom as it discharges the liquids into the ground.
Installed and maintained properly, Gerrity said, they are safe for the environment. But he said that tanks put in without oversight might not be.
"You have to pass a certain number of requirements in order for it to be permitted and if it's not permitted, it would be illegal," he said. "They actually make sure that your system, your space, the amount of time it spends in the tank, is sufficient to treat that water before it makes it to the environment."
Through a representative, Alfred Seeno Jr., Mamer's former boss, firmly denied the allegations and called Mamer a "total and complete liar."
In a statement released by his attorney, Mamer said: "I am confident the investigation will corroborate my report of unpermitted septic systems initially provided to the Seenos, and then to relevant state and federal agencies, in an effort to protect Coyote Springs' sensitive desert waterways from raw sewage contamination."
This is not the first time that Seeno and his northern California construction companies have been accused of environmental abuses.
According to court records, in 2002 and 2008 Seeno paid a combined $4 million for violations of the Endangered Species Act and several California environmental laws.
The Southern Nevada Health District confirmed it is investigating Mamer's claims.
"There needs to be oversight, and the county and the city and the state have oversight," Feldman said. "Agencies that need to stay on the ball and they need to watch what's going on with all of these developers and not just this particular developer."
According to Mamer's lawsuit, he's filed complaints with the health district, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
No word yet on when or if any of those agencies will find a violation.
A representative for Coyote Springs insisted the development has all of the permits required by law.
Monday, September 1 2014 6:06 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:06:07 GMT
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