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But the Natural Resources Defense Council has produced documents that suggest the Sacketts have left out important parts of the story.
The documents, obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the federal Freedom of Information Act, show that the couple disregarded the opinion of a wetlands expert they hired to evaluate their property. The Sacketts also passed up an offer from the Army, which shares jurisdiction over wetlands with the EPA, to seek a permit that might have allowed work to continue on the site with little delay, according to the NRDC.
Tom Duebendorfer, a biologist who specializes in wetlands, confirmed that he advised the Sacketts in May 2007 that their property was a wetlands and that there were wetlands on three sides of their land. The Sacketts say that in 2010, other wetlands consultants examined their land and concluded Mr. Duebendorfer was wrong.
“I maintain they were wetlands,” said Mr. Duebendorfer, who says he has worked in the Pacific Northwest for 35 years.
He also said it would have been relatively easy and inexpensive for the Sacketts to fill out what is called an “after-the-fact” permit with the Corps of Engineers that is intended for situations like the Sacketts’.
Such a resolution could have avoided the court case that has followed.
Damien M. Schiff, the attorney representing the Sacketts for free, said the case is no longer about the environment. “Really all we want now is for the Sacketts to get their day in court,” Mr. Schiff said. He works for the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., a public interest law firm that focuses on property rights.
The Sacketts won a lottery of sorts when the high court decided in June to hear their case. But the past few years have otherwise been difficult.
The recession has had a deep impact on the Sacketts’ excavation business. The company’s payroll has declined from 40 employees to 25, Mr. Sackett said. In late 2010, the business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
By John McAfee
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