Wetlands, wetlands everywhere (Yet not a drop to drink)

Fed by streams tumbling from the Selkirk Mountains and bordered by parkland, the 19-mile stretch of clear water in the Idaho Panhandle known as Priest Lake has been called “the Lake Tahoe of the upper Northwest,” The Washington Post reports. Houses and resorts crowd the privately owned lakeshore; piers and a marina jut into its waters.

A local couple, Mike and Chantell Sackett run an excavation business in Priest Lake. Back in 2005, Chantell bought Mike a 0.63-acre lot in a subdivision about 500 feet from the lake, as a surprise.

There are several homes between the Sackett lot and the shore, the Post reports; Mike worked on the construction of one and says it required no special federal permit.

In 2007, the couple obtained local building permits and began to fill the lot in preparation for building their dream home. Three days later, officials from the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers ordered work to stop, claiming they thought the land might contain wetlands.

“How can you call it a wetland when it’s a lot in an existing subdivision that has a sewer hookup?” asks Mike Sackett.

The agency subsequently ordered the Sacketts to restore the site to its natural state before construction could begin. Failure to follow the orders could make the couple liable for fines of up to $37,500 a day — almost $15,000 more per day than they paid for the land!

The EPA contends that was “a starting point for negotiations,” The Post reports. The couple respond by describing a bureaucratic maze that left them convinced they’d never be able to build so long as the EPA’s contention that the land contained “wetlands” was allowed to stand.

(What would the government’s position be after 60 days of such “negotiations,” anyway? I believe at that point it would be, “Now, Mr. and Mrs. Sackett, I think you’ve wasted enough of our time, for which we’re paid while you’re not. So you can kneel down and kiss our butts and do exactly what we tell you, right now, or you can start by paying those $2.2 million in fines you’ve racked up so far, Mr. and Mrs. Uppity Bankrupt Wise-ass.”)

The Pacific Legal Foundation features the Sacketts’ four-year saga on its Web site under the headline “Taking a Bully to the Supreme Court.”

“This is what happens when an overzealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense,” says the Sacketts’ U.S. senator, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

So far, lower courts have agreed with the government that the agency’s compliance orders are not subject to judicial review.

The Sacketts and the Pacific Legal Foundation respond that even the prospect of waiting to see whether the EPA will go to court — it has years to make the decision — deprives the couple of their property rights, leaving them “to the mercy and whim of EPA.”

This month, thank goodness, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Sacketts’ case.

The issue before the court is narrow: whether the Sacketts can challenge the EPA’s initial finding that their lot contains wetlands.

The danger of a Sackett victory, squawk environmental extremists, is that it could allow “major polluters” to tie up the EPA in litigation.

Oh, the humanity!

Compliance orders and the threats of heavy fines are meant to persuade purported “violators” to knuckle under and do whatever they’re told without saddling bureaucrats with any of this onerous rigmarole designed to preserve any remaining vestiges of “property rights” and “due process,” they argue.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a brief supporting the Sacketts, reports internal EPA documents uncovered in a different suit against the agency show the EPA trains employees to make compliance orders “ugly, onerous, and tough,” precisely to coerce cave-ins — and the Fifth Amendment’s “takings” clause be damned.

Yet the fans of Big Government continue to whine that overreaching regulations, arrogantly enforced, aren’t damaging Americans’ freedom and prosperity? How many carpenters and plumbers and sawmill operators sit idle while property owners like the Sacketts are blocked from developing their own land?

For starters, the authority over navigable waters granted to the central government under the Constitution was intended to prevent any single state from blocking transit of a major river like the Ohio, in order to charge extortionate tolls that could limit interstate commerce.

To stretch that power as justification for federal oversight of “national forests” within the several states, on the grounds they serve as watersheds for “navigable” rivers (including many a Western “river” that runs dry 10 months a year) was already, well … quite a stretch. That, of course, was then taken as justification for federal oversight of “wetlands,” once commonly held to mean “swamps,” most of which, presumably, eventually drain into “navigable waters.”

But to contend Priest Lake — lying entirely within the most remote corner of the state of IdahoÊ– is “navigable” in the sense that commercial barges use it for interstate commerce is absurd, for starters. And beyond that, the EPA now embraces a definition of “wetland” which can refer to a piece of land where water pools and stands for as little as a couple of days per year after a heavy rain — hardly the swamp full of fish and turtles that most people envision from some old Disney two-reeler about “Life in the Everglades.”

If the EPA controls any “waters” that eventually flow into a navigable river, can it come into my house and supervise my use of the sink and the bathtub? Why not?

The EPA is one of many federal agencies so far out of control — its mandate expanded to the point of absurdity, helping to bankrupt the treasury even as it cripples Americans’ freedom and prosperity — that the Founding Fathers would have thought we were joking.

If it can’t be shut down entirely, this gang of arrogant goons needs at least to be slashed in size, its powers reined in under ongoing, regular legislative and judicial review.

Though a true Supreme Court would note the absence of any Constitutional delegation of power for such an outfit as currently empaneled, and close the EPA down immediately, auctioning off its fancy trucks to the highest bidder.

4 Comments to “Wetlands, wetlands everywhere (Yet not a drop to drink)”

  1. J. Brook Says:

    And yet, nominal conservatives, like Ann Coulter, still insist that liberal, big-government republicans like Romney, are our best bet. Right.

  2. liberranter Says:

    So far, lower courts have agreed with the government that the agency’s compliance orders are not subject to judicial review.

    Well, now ain’t that a shock.

    This month, thank goodness, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Sacketts’ case.

    And for anyone who wants to lay a wager on that august gang of black-robed tyrants issuing a ruling that is any different than that of the lower courts, I have oceanfront property in Boise that is just too good a deal for you to pass up.

  3. R Says:

    Crazy like a Drega

  4. Frank Says:

    A Supreme Court that made the horrible decision in Kelo? A case that should have been a slam dunk 9-0 decision AGAINST the City of New London and in favor of freedom and liberty?