Four years ago the Sacketts were filling in their lot with dirt and rock, preparing to build a simple three-bedroom home in a neighborhood where other houses have stood for years. Then three federal officials showed up and demanded they stop construction. The agency claimed the .63-acre lot was a wetland, protected under the Clean Water Act….
The EPA issued an order requiring the Sacketts to put the land back the way it was, removing the piles of fill material and replanting the vegetation they had cleared away…. The agency threatened to fine them up to $32,500 a day until they complied.
The Sacketts instead tried to get a hearing in federal court…. Two lower courts turned the couple away, saying they could not make that argument until the EPA asked a federal judge to enforce the order. That left the Sacketts in limbo. Restoring the property as the EPA demanded made no sense to them. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, they say, and if they ultimately won the case they’d have to clear the land a second time. But defying the order potentially meant racking up $32,500 in fines each day—and perhaps criminal liability if they continued with construction—while they waited for the EPA to decide whether to pursue the case. “It’s an unenviable choice,” says Damien M. Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based property rights group that is representing the couple for free. “It’s really almost no choice at all.”