Pity Rocky Gravel. With a name more suited to a Hollywood action film, one would assume Mr. Gravel to be the protagonist, a hero fighting against injustice wherever it stands.  But Mr. Gravel is one of us, one of the poor unfortunates in this country who wake up one day to find they’ve been targeted by a nanny-state government gone mad with power, an entity working surreptitiously  to erode the personal rights which we have all, unfortunately, taken for granted.

A little anarchy...

When Rocky decided to build his garage on the property he’s owned since 1991, he was surprised to find that the federal government, through FEMA, had declared that his property was now in a flood zone. They did this by super-imposing new satellite imagery on pre-existing flood plain maps and the updated maps now show Mr. Gravel’s property to be located squarely in the new flood plain. Of course, the images don’t reveal the fact that the small brook which runs behind his home goes completely dry in the summer, nor the fact that the elevation of his property puts it well above the flood stage of the threating, trickling body of water that causes the government to be so concerned for his welfare.  Rocky was forced to pay $2,000 to prove his case or he faced at least that much annually on federal flood zone insurance fees. Sorry Rocky, the government has the power to decide you’re guilty before they prove their case, and you have to pay to prove them wrong. At your own expense.  Remember, we’re from the government and we’re here to help.

Maine is an interesting case in such actions relating to flood plains, as most of the pre-existing maps were very old to begin with and the new ones show little if any other detail about the properties in question.  But the situation isn’t unique to Maine either.  Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing a case from Idaho, Sackett vs. EPA. In that case, the EPA is leveling some very heavy fees and fines, up to $75,000 per day, on a lot that had already been approved for building.  The case is being heard over the fact that fines can be levied based on a government compliance order without any due process, again, proven guilty before you have a chance to challenge the ruling until you are sued by the federal government.  Neat. Not only do they get to dictate how you will use your property, a clear infringement on your property rights, they get to fine you and sue you without having to prove their case in court, circumventing any right to due process.  Constitution be damned.

This reminds me of a situation that developed in our own neighborhood some 8 years ago.  Our subdivision was not quite finished when we moved in, although all the lot plans had been approved for development.  Many were cleared including one corner lot that had the location of the driveway cleared and ready for construction to begin. The housing market slowed and winter put development on hold so the lot stood idle for almost a year.  During that time, the run-off of the unfinished neighborhood and main road pooled at the end of the lot covering the driveway and lo and behold, where there was once a prime lot waiting for the foundation and septic to be installed to the approved building plan, there now was a declared wetland.  Water was standing as high as 4 inches up the trunks of mature trees, water that wouldn’t be there once the grading of the final road was competed and proper drainage of the neighborhood was in place.  But the local DEP man came by and had the builder put up fencing and barriers to protect the new wetlands.  Subsequently, the building plan had to be changed, such that the septic and the building were close enough to the property line that the builder also had to apply for a zoning variance. Of course, the local environmental authorities were following the vague, but very effective ruling of the EPA that defines a wetland if the property is wet “sometimes” or is “situated near a stream or a lake.” So of course, the local DEP lackey with just a little too much power got to decide that this was a clear violation even though he had approved the property for building two years earlier.  The eventual owners of the property got to watch over the next several years as the standing water drowned the mature trees on the corner of their property, trees they were not able to remove until they fell, in an area that wouldn’t have been wet if the property had been allowed to drain as it had for years before.

As my two girls get older, I often remember with great fondness many of the childhood activities they’ve outgrown, one of which was jumping in the puddles that form at end of our driveway when the rain is heavy.  Had they been caught doing so during a drive-by of the local DEP official, would I have been fined for them disturbing a wetland?

We’ll find out this springtime.  Daddy wants one last puddle party.

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