The Sacketts and a Story of Lost Liberty
Until the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 this past week against the Environmental Protection Agency, I'd never heard of either Michael or Chantell Sackett.
I didn't know that in 2005, the couple bought a small lot near a lake in a residential neighborhood of Idaho, and had begun clearing the land for a three bedroom house. Shortly thereafter, the EPA came along and ordered the Sacketts to cease and desist construction on their land, claiming the property to be a "wetland" and that the Sacketts were in violation of the Clean Water Act. Unless the Sacketts put the property back into its original state, the EPA decreed it would charge them $37,500 for each day they did not comply.
Now, the kicker in this sorry tale of an apparent rogue agency run amok is that the Sacketts, up until the day the Supreme Court finally heard the case, were not allowed a hearing or review with the EPA.
The EPA made its decision that the property was a wetland, even though there are pictures and video showing the plot to be water-free and case closed. For each day the Sacketts didn't fix the land or send in their check for $37,500, the EPA considered them criminals, guilty of "noncompliance."
The Supreme Court stepped in and ruled only that the Sacketts deserved a hearing and further review with the EPA.
Where to begin? First of all, I am trying to imagine the sequence of events leading up to the EPA's arrival on the Sackett property. I see a "For Sale" sign somewhere out front. Perhaps the Sacketts had seen the available property in one of those real estate brochures. Maybe they had already met with a broker, who alerted them to the small parcel that was for sale. Maybe they just drove by it one weekend afternoon and thought, "What a lovely spot to build a home."
I see them making their decision to buy, going to a bank to see about a mortgage and building loan. They reach an agreement with the bank and the seller, and the deal is closed. Perhaps they meet with an architect, or maybe since their budget is tight, they use store-bought plans for the modest home they will build.
They secure their permits with the county, check to see that the land perks, and no sooner do they break ground than along comes the EPA police, who take their land away.
Questions: With an annual budget of $10 billion of your tax dollars and 17,000 agents at its disposal, is the EPA so inefficient that it is incapable of designating the lot a wetland before the Sacketts purchased it? How did the Sacketts meet with all the people they likely did before breaking ground and none were aware that the lot was a "wetland"?
Who gave the EPA the authority to confiscate land, assess fines, and all the while without having to grant an audience to the landowners after confiscation and punitive assessment? Where on earth does the EPA think the average American is going to be able to come up with $37,500 a day to comply with its ridiculous orders?
Dear Reader, there is something about this story that is so revolting on its surface, and so frightening in its implications for individual liberty, that to think that it occurs right here in the good old USA is almost too much to believe.
So much for a government agency of common sense, decency, and serving its people efficiently. The EPA was created with the noble cause of cleaning out pollution from our waterways. Where did it get police state authority to essentially take away lawfully purchased private property?
And if the EPA is to designate what is wetland and uninhabitable, then shouldn't it have an obligation to designate the land as such, before the property is bought?
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will begin to hear testimony on whether the federal government can impose fines on individuals for not purchasing health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act. The case is critical to individual liberty in the face of government power and overreach.
For the Sacketts, it's probably just another sad day in a world they have become all too used to.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines and is a regular contributor to The Pilot and PineStraw. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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