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Idaho landowners to get high court hearing

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider the rights of two Idaho landowners when confronted with an order from the Environmental Protection Agency that they are violating the federal Clean Water Act.

On Tuesday the justices added the case of Chantell and Michael Sackett to their lineup for the term that begins in October.

The Sacketts contend that EPA left them with no practical way to object to the agency’s determination that work on their half-acre parcel in a subdivision near Priest Lake violated federal law governing wetlands and tried to coerce their compliance through the threat of costly fines.

They claim they would either have to apply for a federal permit that could cost as much as the property itself, or wait for the EPA to go to court to force them to comply.

The Sacketts took their case to the Supreme Court after their appeal was rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last fall.

“The decision to take the case and review an anti-property rights ruling by the Ninth Circuit should be encouraging for all property owners, all across the country,” said the couple’s attorney Damien Schiff, a senior lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The legal tussle developed after the EPA determined in 2007 that a federally protected wetland was present on the couple’s parcel, a finding that posed regulatory and financial challenges for the couple to build their home.

But the Sacketts reject the EPA’s finding that their property is wetlands and the agency has authority. They claim there is no standing water on the parcel or any continuously flowing water connection between their land and Priest Lake.

A lawsuit filed by the couple in 2008 was rejected in U.S. District Court, then denied again by the 9th Circuit.

“We are standing up against an agency that seems to have unlimited resources and few if any limits on what it can do to property owners,” said Mike Sackett.

The case is Sackett et al. v. EPA et al., 10-1062.