Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reverse Endangered Species Act Claim

In a comedic regulatory taking "defense," government counsel opposing our client's regulatory taking claim in Galleon Bay Corp. v. Monroe County & the State of Florida, are attempting to pin the tail on the federal government donkey, arguing "the US Fish & Wildlife Service made us do it."

Most land use attorneys know the USF&WS abhors "regulatory taking" issues because it doesn't have the money to buy "regulatory condemned" property and, if it were to do so, the F&WS would pay for the property out of the agency's regular budget. That means salaries and overhead suffer if a taking claim occurred. So ... what is going on here?

Apparently, the Monroe County Attorney, Suzanne Hutton, and Florida's Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Bill McCollum, never got it. We have been served with a motion to dismiss, based on those politicians' nonsensical theory that the USF&WS "took" the subject property (on No Name Key) by "requiring" the County and State to apply for an Incidental Take Permit ("ITP") for the widening and fencing of US-1 on Big Pine Key, in Monroe County, Florida (the Florida Keys).

Just to bring everyone up to speed, the Endangered Species Act (ESA, adopted in Richard Nixon's administration) places burdens on government, not private sector, activities that affect listed species. Private development activities are not subject to the ESA, but landowners can apply for an ITP if they are concerned about the survival of an endangered species after their project has been completed.

As no landowner is required to apply for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), no ITP is required for a private developer to build homes on No Name Key -- which already has nearly 60 homes -- or anywhere else, for that matter. Thus, there is no federal law or regulation that requires owners of Galleon Bay lots to obtain an ITP. Monroe County and the State took it upon themselves to obtain an ITP for the hundreds of vacant lot owners on Big Pine and No Name Keys, for the sole purpose of acquiring those parcels at fire-sale prices.

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