When Regulating Wetlands Means Ruining Lives

Writing in Human Events, Senior Fellow R.J. Smith takes a lookat recent Supreme Court action regarding wetlands and includes a few stories about wetlands regulations run amuck:

…The Wall Street Journal’s Max Boot has referred to this CWA-EPA-Army Corps axis as “The Wetlands Gestapo” for very good reason. In every state of the union, small landowners have faced bureaucratic nightmares when some federal or state agent suddenly showed up and said their property contained protected wetlands — whether wet or dry. And typically these landowners have entered no-exit mazes of bureaucratic red tape running on for years and years, and even decades, of extremely costly permit-seeking and legal proceedings, vainly seeking to exhaust all available “administrative remedies” so that their cases might become ripe for seeking takings compensation. Meanwhile, they were paying taxes on land they could not use.

The best example of the naked power behind the CWA surfaced in Maine, where Gaston Roberge owned a 2.8-acre commercial lot which he had allowed the town to use to dump fill. When he tried to sell it for his retirement the Corps charged him with having an illegally filled wetland. In the subsequent legal discovery process, an internal Corps memo was located recommending “Roberge would be a good one to squash and set an example” in order to create a climate of fear among landowners and developers.

While most victims suffer “only” substantial monetary losses and the loss of the use of their land, others have fared far worse. James Wilson, a Maryland developer, created some wildlife ponds on his land and was found guilty of violating the CWA and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and fined $4 million. In Florida, Ocie Mills and his son each spent 21 months in prison for filling a dry ditch with clean building sand in order to construct the son’s personal home.

Perhaps the most notorious case was that of John Pozsgai who had escaped Communist Hungary in 1956 to live in the land of the free. He purchased property in Pennsylvania for a home and to build a truck repair shop. He cleaned up part of the land and a storm-water drainage ditch, removing an illegal dump containing more than 5,000 old tires. The tire-filled ditch had flooded during heavy rains. Yet the Feds considered it a stream, declared the dump removal a CWA violation, and Mr. Pozsgai was fined and imprisoned, serving one and a half years in federal prison, another year and a half in a “halfway house,” and then five years of supervised probation. The family was forced into bankruptcy and his daughter is still vainly attempting to gain Mr. Pozsgai a presidential pardon…

Read the entire piece here.

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