Everyone has or will deal with outlandish or seemingly arbitrary fees sometime in their lives. Bank of America was almost the poster child for these kinds of fees, but for now it is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that you want to be on the look out for. In just five years, a North Idaho couple has accumulated more than $100 million in fees issued by the government agency regarding a dispute about their dream home.
Naturally, the couple has taken their case to court. Mike and Chantal Sackett wanted to build their dream home on three-fourths of an acre of land in Priest Lake, Idaho according to Krem.com. The EPA stepped in shortly after they started on their construction project and informed them that their land was protected wetland. Because the Sacketts did not have the proper permit to fill in their land with rocks and dirt they were issued a daily fine of $37,000, more than their land is worth. After turning to their local court and then the 9th district court, they were told the EPA cannot be sued and have now taken the case to the Supreme Court. According to Bradenton.com, the case will focus on whether the EPA is abusing its power and overstepping bounds by issuing such huge fees.
When I first started looking into this case I was on the side of most other columnists that have been commenting on it. I was under the impression that the EPA was being ridiculous, and that a daily fine of almost $40,000 for less than an acre of land is far too much. I understand the reasoning behind it — the incentive for those facing the fine to comply with the EPA's instructions on how to avoid it — but when it accumulates to the point of going to the Supreme Court, there is clearly a line that has been crossed.
Then I found an article on Boston.com that negated the Sackett's main defense against the fines. The couple has been claiming since the start of their legal battle that they had no idea there were protected wetlands on their property. However, according to the article, there are documents provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council that prove the couple ignored the opinion of a wetlands expert they hired to look at the property. Additional documents show the couple refused an offer to get a permit that would allow them to build their dream home anyway.
The Sacketts should not have to pay the fine issued to them by the EPA. They should, however, be forced to comply with the EPA's demands that they restore their land to its former state. Anyone who has taken Environmental Science 101 knows just how precious our natural resources are and how important it is to preserve them. That, and going through the effort of hiring a professional only to ignore him, is extremely arrogant. One would not go to the doctor for a checkup then ignore him when he suggests things you should have looked at. Especially not when preventative care is going to cost you less than future treatments.