For more than ten years, Whatcom County has established a growing number of regulations, policies, and plans based on environmental theory. And our Planning & Development Services department operates on the assumption that all land within the county's boundaries - both public and private - is a "natural resource" that the county has not only the right but a duty to manage. An increasing number of permit approvals require "mitigation." In most cases, little tangible scientific proof of harm done is proven by the government itself. Planners glibly write about creating regulatory "tool boxes" to expand the public use of private property. How justifiable is their stance?
Citizens' private land (or the use of their land) should not be taken wrongfully, without site-specific proof that damage has occurred or will occur. On-site and off-site mitigation, if justified, should be soundly based on facts and be proportionate to impact.
The general demand for agricultural, watershed and wetlands "protection" and restoration, and for numerous other kinds of public use (such as transportation and recreation), is expanding here in leaps and bounds without the specificity it should. Whatcom County legal's opinion always leans in favor of expanding county powers - but is that constitutionally correct?
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Koontz family as it may, could this case make a difference? Yes, absolutely. Watch the video below.
Background, from Pacific Legal Foundation:
PLF's new case at the Supreme Court asks: Can government extort money from property owners?
The Koontz family merely wanted to develop the family's land in legal and responsible ways," said PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II, who wrote the successful petition asking the Supreme Court to take the case. "But the St. Johns River Water Management District saw a chance to make all kinds of unrelated, outrageous demands."
In particular, the agency demanded that the Koontz family pay for up to $150,000 in improvements on 50 acres of the district's own land --- miles away from the Koontz property!
"This permit condition bore no connection to the project that Mr. Koontz proposed," said Beard.
"This is a classic case of an unconstitutional shakedown. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government can't use the permitting process to extract conditions that aren't related to the impact of the proposed development."
As PLF supporters know, that ruling came in PLF's 1987 victory, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission. In this new case, we're asking the Court to rein in agencies that ignore Nollan --- and to make it clear that Nollan forbids extortion of money, not just real property.