Landowners’ fight over ‘wetlands’ designation not over after 13 years!

By WND Staff

Chantell and Michael Sackett went to court 13 years ago against the Environmental Protection Agency after it designated their half-acre of land in a subdivision in Idaho as a wetlands area.

That means they can’t do any development of their property.

Now the federal agency has formally withdrawn the administrative compliance order it issued in 2007 that threatened fines of $75,000 a day.

But the case still isn’t over.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which won the Supreme Court decision for the Sacketts, said one issue remains unresolved.

That’s whether or not the Sacketts can now build on the lot.

“While the compliance order is withdrawn, it’s not clear whether the Sacketts can build anything without permission from the EPA. The EPA’s determination that the Sacketts’ vacant lot is a federally regulated wetland appears to remain in effect,” said senior attorney Tony Francois of PLF.

“We will ask the court of appeals to resolve that question in the Sacketts’ favor if EPA won’t clarify it. Otherwise, the Sacketts remain under the threat of future enforcement action or a citizen suit if they proceed to build on the lot.”

The EPA, under the Clean Water Act, had accused the couple of illegally filling a wetland when they broke ground to build their house in a residential neighborhood near Priest Lake, Idaho. The EPA told the Sacketts that no home could be built on the lot, despite never establishing that the lot is a wetland under congressionally mandated criteria, the legal team explained.

WND reported the Supreme Court ruled the EPA could not deny the Sacketts access to the courts.

That argument, however, became moot when the agency dropped its compliance order.

The case began when the Sacketts obtained a permit to build a modest three-bedroom home on a half-acre lot in an existing, partially built-out residential subdivision.

“The home poses no threat to water quality but federal EPA regulators nonetheless declared their property to contain a wetland and demanded they stop all work and restore the lot to its natural condition or pay fines of up to $75,000 per day,” the foundation said.

“When they sued to challenge this order, EPA asserted they had no right to judicial review. The district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and tossed their lawsuit out of court. The United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed, ruling that failure to allow the lawsuit violated the Sacketts’ constitutional due process rights.”

The dry land on the lot has a sewer hookup and is zoned for residential construction.

The Sacketts had started building when the EPA issued the order, which required expensive restoration work and a three-year monitoring program.

The couple also was ordered to do mitigation off-site and pay fines costing more than the land was worth.

Mike Sackett said he and his wife were subjected to “hell” by federal bureaucrats.

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