Mike and Chantell Sackett got into a fight with the federal government when the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly ordered them to give up the residential housing development ground they’d purchased for their home Near Priest Lake, Idaho. That was years ago.
The feds refused them permission even to contest the action, and so they ended up in the Supreme Court.
But back in the lower courts, the EPA still has been dictating the results of their case, a fight over the reach of the Clean Water Act and whether the government can control their land because it’s not far from the lake, and it appears now they’ll be heading back to the Supremes.
A report from eenews noted the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most-overturned appeals court in the country, had sided again with the federal agency.
The 9th Circuit rejected the Sacketts’ arguments that EPA was mistaken in claiming their land contained wetlands.
The report said, “Today’s ruling cuts to the heart of a key legal dispute about the Clean Water Act: which opinion from the Supreme Court’s confusing 2006 Rapanos decision controls EPA’s definition of which wetlands and streams fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction.”
Judge Michelle Friedland claimed the Sacketts’ 0.63-acre property, which they purchased in 2004, is 300 feet from Priest Lake, a traditionally navigable water. She found that the property is adjacent to a tributary and other wetlands, qualifying for Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
Even multiple presidential administrations have failed to agree on what the Supreme Court said, though. Barack Obama issued a rule based on one part of the opinion, while President Trump replaced that with a more lenient interpretation from another part of the opinion.
Tony Francois of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Sacketts, said he will consult with the Sacketts about an appeal.
The opinion, he said, “is erroneous.”
The case originated almost 20 years ago, in 2004, when the EPA threatened them with fines of $75,000 a day because it wanted to control their land.
The first fight at the Supremes was over the Sacketts’ insistence they have a legal right to challenge the government taking of their land, for which they were not reimbursed. The Supremes agreed they could.
The EPA eventually later withdrew its administrative compliance order against the family that included the threat of huge fines.
The PLF said earlier that even without the compliance order, it was unclear whether the Sacketts could build on their own land.
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. The EPA told the Sacketts that no home could be built on the lot, despite the fact it had never before established that the lot is a wetland under congressionally mandated criteria.
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 dry land on the lot has a sewer hookup and is zoned for residential construction. Homes already exist on nearby lots.
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