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Priest Lake Land Dispute Going To Supreme Court

By Colleen O'Brien, Reporter / Weekend Anchor, colleeno@kxly.com
Published On: Oct 12 2011 10:09:40 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 13 2011 03:07:42 AM CDT
PRIEST LAKE, Idaho -

A battle on the banks of Priest Lake in North Idaho has reached the Supreme Court. A couple is taking on the Environmental Protection Agency over six-tenths of an acre they bought for a home, but the EPA says it's protected under the Clean Water Act.

Mike and Chantell Sackett testified Wednesday at a forum in Washington D.C. ahead of their Supreme Court case scheduled for this winter.

The couple has been twisted in a lawsuit with the EPA since 2005. They purchased the land, surrounded by homes and equipped with a sewer system, and obtained a permit from Bonner County to begin building their dream home.

They couple had begun the process of preparing the land for foundation when the EPA stepped in.

?Three officials showed up and ordered work to stop with no credentials or anything in writing telling us what we were doing was wrong,? Mike Sackett said.

The EPA informed the Sacketts that the land they were building on was a wetland and protected by the clean water act.

Mike argued that there wasn't any water there, not even a seasonal stream, but the EPA persisted in stopping them from building. The Sacketts hired an engineer, a soil scientist and wetland expert and all concluded their land was not a wetland.

The news didn't phase the EPA, so Mike checked into the EPA records on wetlands and found their database did not list their land as a wetland.

?The EPA stated the wetlands inventory is not always correct, this is our federal government,? Mike said, which was met with laughter.

The six-year battle has rattled the couple who say the financial burden has threatened to shut down their construction business.

?Bullying, that's what the EPA does, they came into our life, took our property, put is in limbo, told us we can't do anything with it, and then threatened us with fines,? Chantell Sackett said.

The EPA slapped the couple with a $36,000-per-day fine for not complying with their demands. The total has reached over $40 million to date.

The two will get their day in court this winter, thanks to the help of Idaho Senators Mike Crapo, Jim Risch and Raul Labrador, who all took a special interest in the Sacketts.

?This is what happens when an over-zealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense,? Crapo told the Sacketts.

?It?s stunning to hear this kind of action is happening right here in America,? said Risch. ?It is critical that Americans understand that federal bureaucrats have gone well beyond their authority to keep our air and water clean. The legislative branch must reclaim its constitutional right to legislate and stop these abuses.?

"Listening to the Sackett family tell their story today to Members of Congress was eye-opening," said Labrador. "Hearing their firsthand experience with a bullying federal agency that seems to be above the law is frustrating. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will stand with them, and with the concept of due process enshrined in the Constitution to remind an overreaching bureaucracy that no agency, no matter how big, can run roughshod over the principles of law and order. I am optimistic that the Supreme Court will find that the EPA does not have the power to victimize private citizens as they have with the Sacketts."

The couple says their request is simple ? they want to build their dream home at their dream location as they intended. Their battle with the EPA is their way of making sure no other property owner has to go through what they have.

?We believe property owners have a constitutional right to have their day in court and the EPA has to be subject to the rule of the law,? Mike said.

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