Farm, Home and Church Lands Unusable - Owners Bear the Losses and Costs
The devastation of the personal life on an elderly man, the blockage of redemption of a 130-year old family farm, and the financial drain on a protestant denomination establishing a mission church illustrate how-private property owners bear the losses and costs resulting from federal laws and rules for protection of the environment.
The 130-year old farm of Bart Dye in Shoals, southwestern Indiana was seized by the Farmers Home Administration in 1984. Mr. Dye and other farmers in Martin County had suffered from grave difficulty obtaining the usual operating funds after they successfully opposed the expansion of the Hoosier National Forest into his county in 1977. After the 1983 drought, 14 farms were taken down by FmHA in that county.
Mr. Dye went to court with farmers from North Carolina to challenge the FmHA's procedures when they blocked him from regaining his farm, but ultimately the federal court ruled that the FmHA had sovereign immunity. In 1991 he was granted the right to lease his land, which had deteriorated greatly under FmHA management, including the collapse of a 150-ft bridge, a building down, 18 miles of fence wrecked and pasture gone to weeds.
He had been trying to obtain a buy-back, but in 1991 FmHA stated that this would depend on his agreeing to terms under the 1990 farm law and Endangered Species law mandating that the Secretary of Agriculture impose environmental easements to protect habitat and wetlands. The easements to protect bald eagles and Indiana bats never seen on his farm and river mussels had no basis in biological assessment. The easements would leave the use of his land to the whim of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Because of the potential easements, the farmer has drained his equity leasing his farm for five Years rather than applying his payments toward a mortgage. Ironically for this hardworking, courageous farmer, this procedure, which has encumbered or transferred to environmental agencies over one-quarter million acres of farmland, demonstrates the operation of a "friendly" federal agency, the FmHA, to work against farmers.
The wetlands easement law, which was unsuccessfully challenged in federal court by another farm family, Myron Miles in Oregon, needs to be repealed, and a voluntary conservation program substituted. Farmers need a means of redress so that those who drained their equity in lease payments because of the easements can apply them to buy-back. The taxpayers need relief from a program which, like the Resolution Trust program to virtually donate lands to environmental purposes, gives the FmHA assets of inventory farms up for environmental preserves instead of letting farmers buy them.
Marinus Van Leuzen, an elderly Texas veteran in port Bolivar, likewise found himself trapped by a federal environmental bureaucracy, but his was an enforcement effort under the US EPA, Corps of Engineers and Federal District Court, rather than the supposedly friendly agencies like the US Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Farmers Home Administration.
He placed his pre-built home on his high and dry 0.4-acre parcel he had owned for 25 years that was part of a parking area and decrepit bait camp. While he was finishing off the grading and slab, he was ordered to stop by the Corps of Engineers. He sought to comply, but was told by authorities that it was virtually impossible to get a permit. He completed the work and was brought to court.
The Federal judge disregarded clear evidence that the Corps of Engineers had previously designated the land as "upland" suitable for deposit of dredged material. For a crime against the planet, so Federal Judge Samuel Kent said, he sentenced the elderly veteran, who had fled the Nazis from Holland and fought 7 Years in World War II, to a fine of $350 per month for 8 to 12 years totalling to $50,400, a giant 20-ft apology billboard beside his home on a state highway, and the restoration of the wetland. His house is to ultimately be removed.
The Corps of Engineers carried out the sentence. Mr. Van Leuzen was forced to create a moat around his house, 2 to 3 feet deeper than the surrounding ground, which then filled with stagnant fresh water rather than salt water. Mr. Van Leuzen now lives in a house surrounded by a moat.
His estranged wife, whom he had tried to protect from the stress of the prosecution, just sued for divorce because she is afraid the federal government will attach her assets.
The office of Mr. Van Leuzen's Congressman, Representative Steve Stockman, has informed me that even if the Clean Water Act is revised under current proposals, Mr. Van Leuzen's sentence would not be remitted, Legislative proposals would work to affect takings and classifications, but not already-imposed sentences, leaving an innocent man like Mr. Van Leuzen with no justice.
Churches are not exempt from financial tribulations caused by wetlands rules. A Free Will Baptist mission church in Waldorf, Maryland, just south of the Beltway, was recently established on a 3-acre parcel of seeming dry land of ample space for the buildings and parking. But the Army Corps of Engineers decreed that about 35 percent of the property should be off limits to construction to save another supposed "wetland." The denomination, which had already spent $155,000 for the parcel, was forced to buy an additional neighboring tract for a parking area at a price of $45,000 this year.
According to The Reverend Murray Southwell, who is the Chairman of the Maryland State Association of Free Will Baptists Home Missions Board, "This added cost has been a heavy financial burden on this small missions church and the Missions Board."
It is one thing to believe in and practice environmentalism and to legislate environmental protection. The point where property rights advocates depart these days from people who lay exclusive claim to the name "environmentalist," is where the environmental law and its imposition override constitutional protections of human rights, especially property rights. Idealistic causes should not be used to trample fundamental rights. Judge Kent's fanatical ruling that Mr. Van Leuzen's filling of 0.4-acre was comparable to the genocide of the American Indian is an ideological assault on individual rights. The Farmers Home Administration betrayal of a family farmer for the expansion of a National Forest and the imposition of environmental easements denies the American tradition of private land ownership. It is only natural that government actions that infringe on property rights cause personal hardship. If these sorts of actions by government are allowed to be repeated over and over enough times, the American system of private land ownership and freedom will be history.
How Federal Laws and Regulations Affect Private Property
1. Bart H. Dye, RD #3, Box 274, Shoals, IN 47581 (812) 388-6606
Mr. Dye cannot buy back his 130-year old family farm which was arbitrarily seized by the FmHA because the agency mandates he accept US Fish and Wildlife Service "potential habitat" and "wetlands" easements that prevent secure use of his farm.
Agencies: Farmers Home Administration, US Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service.
Law: Agr Law 7 USC 1985(g), Endangered Species Law, law establishing Hoosier National Forest.
2. Marinus Van Leuzen, Box J, Port Bolivar, TX 77650 (409) 684-8107
This veteran, now 74 years old, sentenced to $350/mo fine for 8-12 yrs, "restoration" of "wetland" as moat around his house, and giant apology billboard on Texas highway.
Agencies: Corps of Engineers, US EPA, Federal District Court-Galveston.
Law: Clean Water Act
Contact: Kenneth McCasland, 1602 Post Office, Galveston, TX 77550 (409) 762-9358 (friend of Mr. Van Leuzen)
3. Waldorf Free Will Baptist Church, 4030 Old Washington Road, Waldorf, MD.
The church had to buy a costly additional parcel of land for $45,000 for parking for their mission church because 35 percent of the original $155,000 parcel was delineated as wetlands.
Agencies: Corps of Engineers.
Law: Clean Water Act.
Contact: Rev. Murray Southwell, Chairman, Maryland State Association
of Free Will Baptists, Home Missions Board, Bloss Memorial Free
Will Baptist Church, 716 N. Barton Street, Arlington, VA 22201,
Actions speak louder than words, especially when individual property rights are at stake. The moment of significant action has arrived. Just this month, the U.S. Congress passed possibly the most far-reaching regulatory reforms in historya moratorium on new regulations, combined with cost-benefit and risk provisions that would become required documentation prior to passage of new regulation.
What better way to speed passage of such reform than to highlight for the American people and the press the outrageous property "takings" by government that have caused the current revolution. Revolution? Yes, just ask Bart Dye, an Indiana farmer whose propertya 150-year-old family farmis threatened by federal agencies that now claim one-third of his land for wetlands purposes.
Mr. Dye, who lost his farm to hostile Farm Home Administration (FMHA) foreclosure, is now eligible to buy it back. But, the farm currently is rendered virtually worthless because the FMHA wants to impose Fish and Wildlife Service habitat easements on the land. Mr. Dye's plight is compounded by the fact that banks will not lend to him for seed, operations, or equipment as long as one-third of his tillable land has been effectively confiscated, in favor of habitat for other species. Never mind that a citizen-taxpayer's rights are superseded by those "protecting" a bat (whose habitat is fluid enough to change from one month to the next) or the Bald Eagle (which has been removed from the Endangered Species list).
Nor is Bart Dye's experience unique, except for his tenaciousness. Today, more than one-quarter-million acres of farmland alone in this country have been encumbered or transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service by the FMHA under the "conservation" program. This alone costs farmers an imputed income loss of $120 million annually if the farms are like Mr. Dye's.
Another example of the heavy and discriminating hand of government is the case of Marinus Van Leuzen. Mr. Van Leuzen, also the brunt of a "wetlands" enforcement, now lives in a man-made swamp embellished by a giant apology billboard, while the federal government garnishes $350 per month from his investment income.
Congress has a perfect opportunity to call these productive citizens to testify before committees. Their stories, and many more, deserve to be in full view of the public, and subject to complete scrutiny by the press and the bleeding hearts of Hollywood. It is high time that America's productive and creative citizens have a public forum where they can face the bureaucrats who torture them and let the voting population of the nation begin to referee what's going on.
The U.S. Code of Rules and Regulations, already more than 131,000 pages, is estimated to be costing the economy nearly $600 billion annually. New "regs" are proliferating at a rate of 1,000 per year. Another 4,300 new statutes are under consideration by the present administration. Again, as Bart Dye can testify, even the statute regarding FMHA-supervised "easements" for wetlands is not interpreted or applied consistently or fairly from state to state.
To be credible, legislatures and courts must offer redress and restitution to individuals and families whose property has been unjustly taken or impaired by government. Lawmakers, not agency heads in executive departments, should be making the laws and monitoring their efficacy. And what is a court system that refuses to enforce the intent of the Constitution? Judicial activism in the name of protecting property rights is a perfectly legitimate and, indeed, a vital court function. The time for congressional hearings has come.
Unless a farmer like Bart Dye can recover his property intact, with full farming rights, the American people will have entered a more sinister era than ever could be expressed by the earlier quotation: "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session"a quote that coincidentally is the same age as the family lands that Mr. Dye seeks to save.
David L. Littman is chief economist for Comerica, Inc.