Property Rights

Property Rights, the Clean Water Act, and the Supreme Court

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Business Week reports on a major property rights case brought by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation that the Supreme Court will be hearing this term:

When Mike and Chantell Sackett paid $23,000 for a lot near the banks of Priest Lake in northern Idaho in 2005, they thought they were buying the site for a picturesque new home. They got a lot more: a long feud with the Environmental Protection Agency and now a Supreme Court case that could bolster the rights of landowners facing costly demands from the federal government.

Four years ago the Sacketts were filling in their lot with dirt and rock, preparing to build a simple three-bedroom home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Then three federal officials showed up and demanded they stop construction. The agency claimed the .63-acre lot was a wetland, protected under the Clean Water Act….

The Sacketts instead tried to get a hearing in federal court…. Two lower courts turned the couple away, saying they could not make that argument until the EPA asked a federal judge to enforce the order. That left the Sacketts in limbo. Restoring the property as the EPA demanded made no sense to them. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, they say, and if they ultimately won the case they'd have to clear the land a second time. But defying the order potentially meant racking up $32,500 in fines each day—and perhaps criminal liability if they continued with construction—while they waited for the EPA to decide whether to pursue the case. "It's an unenviable choice," says Damien M. Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based property rights group that is representing the couple for free. "It's really almost no choice at all."

Read the whole article here.