Priest Lake couple takes EPA challenge to high court

SANDPOINT — A determined Bonner County couple who contends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unfairly interfering with their right to develop a homesite at Priest Lake is taking their fight to the nation’s high court.

Counsel for Mike and Chantelle Sackett petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court last week to consider a series of lower court rulings concerning an EPA determination that federally regulated wetlands are present on their half-acre parcel in a Priest Lake subdivision.

The Sacketts sued EPA over the wetlands determination in U.S. District Court, but a federal judge dismissed the action in 2008 and entered a judgment in favor of EPA. The couple sought redress through the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year, but a three-judge panel ruled judicial review is not available.

A petition for the entire bench of the 9th Circuit to hear the request was also declined.

The Sacketts petitioned the high court to take their case and rule that they have the right to challenge EPA’s wetlands determination.

“The issue in this case is simple, but critically important to all property owners and everyone who values fair play and due process,” said Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Sacketts pro bono. “When bureaucrats try to impose their will on private property, shouldn’t the owners be permitted their day in court to challenge the government’s claim of control?”

The PLF, which bills itself as a watchdog group that litigates for property rights and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, is petitioning the higher court to a review lower court’s judgment for reversible error.

The group contends the 9th Circuit ruling foists an intolerable choice on landowners — spend hundreds of thousands of dollars applying for a permit of questionable need or risk an equally costly enforcement action with fines and penalties.

The PLF also argues the 9th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with an 11th Circuit ruling regarding review procedures for federal compliance orders.

The Sacketts have insisted on a hearing to test EPA’s jurisdiction of their property.

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