North Idaho

Supreme Court sides with Priest Lake couple in EPA land dispute

PRIEST LAKE, Idaho - Mike and Chantell Sackett took their land dispute against the EPA all the way to the United States Supreme Court and found out Wednesday morning they won.
The couple learned Wednesday that the land's highest court sided unanimously in their dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It's been five years of our life that has been basically on hold so it was a little emotional day at our house," Mike Sackett said shortly after learning about the court's ruling.

The Sacketts bought six-tenths of an acre on the west side of Priest Lake in 2005 with plans to build a home. They obtained a building permit and started laying gravel, but then the EPA came in, claimed the property was a wetland and threatened them with fines of up to $75,000 a day.

Sacketts SCOTUS ruling video

The EPA claimed they were violating the Clean Water Act and could build on the property only after purchasing a wetland building permit that would cost around $200,000. The couple contested the claim but the EPA denied their request; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals told the Sacketts they needed to go through the wetlands permit process.

The couple said they hired soil scientists and hydrologists who proved the land is not in fact a wetland.

"They just issued the compliance order and said you have to do what they say. That is what we have a problem with is the principle," Sackett said. 

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision now allows the Sacketts to challenge the EPA's ruling.  In the court's decision, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said, "In a nation that values due process … such treatment is unthinkable. This would have put the property rights of ordinary Americans entirely at the mercy of the EPA employees."

Mike Sackett said this victory helps restore rights for property owners all over the United States. "When they back you into a corner and don't leave you any options, you have to fight there was a reason why that Constitution was written and today it prevailed and the middle class Americans still have a right in this country."

The next step will most likely be when the couple gets their day in court to be able to fight for the land.