The Relief Report ®
20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001
The Army Corps of Engineers' recent decision to impose new regulations that would make it harder to construct homes, roads and other developments ostensibly to protect wetlands is an unnecessary action that will unfairly hit small property owners who are already reeling under existing wetlands regulations.
As justification for the regulations, the Corps points to what it claims is the annual loss of over 100,000 acres of wetlands. But statistic is highly questionable as it fails to take new wetlands into account. According to the Pacific Research Institute's "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," between 1954 and 1974, 690,000 acres of wetlands were lost annually, primarily due to conversion to cropland. Between 1982 and 1992, the annual wetlands depletion rate had fallen to only 156 acres. The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates that, in 1995, the U.S. actually experienced a net gain of 69,000 acres of wetlands.
In addition, there is considerable controversy over how to define a wetland. Federal agencies and state and local governments have different and often contradictory definitions. Thousands of small property owners have been victimized by confusing and cumbersome wetlands regulations. In some cases, the regulations are a nuisance, but in many cases, the regulations impose major economic hardships.
In 1979, for example, Arnold and Marilyn Hansen purchased a four-acre parcel of property near Snohomish, Washington for $55,000 for commercial development. The plan seemed sound as by 1986 the value of the land for commercial development had increased to $280,000. But thanks to local wetlands regulations, the Hansens' property is now virtually worthless.
In 1987, Snohomish County determined that the vast majority of the Hansens' property should permanently serve as a water retention basin for run off from neighboring developed properties. Of the Hansens' 170,000 square feet the county said they could develop 7,200 square feet - a mere 4%. The Hansens filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the county in Washington Superior Court. After years of legal wrangling, the judge ruled for the county in 1997 claiming that the loss of 96% of the Hansens' property did not constitute a regulatory taking.
Belva Coblantz, an 83-year-old widow in St. Helens, Oregon, cannot sell her property and relocate to California to be near her daughter because the State of Oregon and the City of St. Helens say there is a protected wetland on it. Almost blind, Coblantz would like to be near family for company and for help with her daily routine.
Because her house is already surrounded by houses and businesses, Coblantz didn't expect any problems when she decided to sell her land for $310,000 for development. But in August 1999 the deal was cancelled after the State Lands Division determined that a protected wetland covers most of the site. Coblantz needs the money from the land to be able to move near her daughter. Now she is stuck in St. Helens.
Belva can't understand how her land can be considered a protected wetland. A city councilman who owned land right next to hers was able to sell his land for housing development even though he had to pump water out of the basements of those houses during construction.
"I really need the money," says the widow. "I'm nearly blind now and I want to be close to my daughter. I really and truly don't understand how people working for the government can think that what they are doing to me is right."
It would be prudent for the Corps to carefully reconsider its
proposed regulations further limiting wetlands-related development
in light of the serious economic dislocations the current policy
is already causing for innocent property owners like Belva Coblantz
and the Hansens.
As anyone who watched news coverage of the Seattle WTO meeting knows, environmentalists have loudly opposed bioengineered plants.
To put teeth into their complaints, environmentalists broke into a research facility at Washington State University and destroyed nearly 200 plants. They then claimed responsibility for killing genetically-engineered poplar and cottonwood trees.
However, these self-proclaimed experts on plant life killed not trees but 180 raspberry plants.
More proof that an emotional commitment to saving the environment
isn't enough to protect the environment - it is necessary for
advocates to learn a little about the environment, too.
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