Federal Overreach: The Nation’s Most Expensive Mud Puddle
Just thought you might like to know what the federal government is doing on your behalf, how the feds are spending your tax dollars on a crazy-sounding lawsuit.
The dispute pits a South Dakota farm family, the Fosters, against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The fight is over a mud puddle. Yep, you read that right. Said mud puddle is located smack in the middle of prime farmland.
The USDA has decreed that the family may not fill in the muddy patch to plant more crops because it considers the 0.08 acre of land to be federally protected under the 1985 Swampbuster Act, which protects wetlands. No matter that the Foster’s puddle is not connected to any waterway and is not near any other officially designated wetlands property. According to their lawyer, if the family dares to tamper with the puddle, they will lose access to crop insurance and other federal programs designed to help American farmers survive.
Amazing, right? Now, consider that this dispute has been going on since 2004! Imagine how many of your tax dollars the USDA has spent over the years arguing about mud. Imagine how much the family has had to spend commissioning surveys and filing appeals.
The Fosters, obviously from hearty stock, have refused to give in to the absurdity of it all. The family’s requests for reconsideration have been rejected by the USDA, as was their appeal in 2016 to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Fosters continue to believe the federal government should not dictate how a landowner uses their land. And they certainly ought not to be punished with the threat of withholding federal programs other farmers get.
At a time when family farms are being gobbled up by Big Agriculture, you’d think Uncle Sam would see the value that the Foster’s land (a total of some 1,300 acres) brings to both them and the surrounding community.
By any measure, Arlen and Cindy Foster have been good stewards to the property, working it with their daughter, son-in-law and six grandchildren. They are third-generation farmers who raise cattle, corn, soybeans and hay. They practice no-till farming and have a long history of conservation efforts dating back to 1900, when Arlen’s grandfather, Francis Foster, bought the land with a loan of $1,000.
In 1938, as the Dust Bowl era saw farms across the country decimated, Grandpa Francis planted stands of trees to prevent erosion. Today, the Foster’s groves of trees are large and trap snow during the severe South Dakota winters. The spring melt creates a stream of water that seeps the lowland, thus creating the controversial mud puddle.
But darn it, it’s their mud puddle to do with as they please, they believe. And that includes filling it in and planting more corn if they so choose. But they can’t.
Undaunted, the Fosters recently filed a new federal lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In a nutshell, it declares that the government has overstepped its commerce powers and violated the Foster’s constitutional rights. The suit was filed with assistance from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, pro-bono group that fights against government overreach and abuse.
I spoke with the foundation’s lead attorney, Tony Francois. “Even if you’re an ardent environmentalist, I defy you to look at this puddle and say it’s worth the money the feds have and will spend,” he told me.
Francois said it’s clear that the USDA made a bad decision way back when and simply can’t admit it. “This case really is about whether Congress has the power to regulate that mud puddle. If they do, there is no constitutional limit on what they can do,” he said. “The fact that dirt gets wet, so therefore they can ignore the U.S. Constitution? Absurd!”
The USDA says it does not comment on pending litigation, so I cannot report to you that side of the story.
These days, many Americans seem to embrace the idea of more government. The idea that dear old Uncle Sam will take care of us with trillions in spending seems attractive. But remember what the Fosters have been dealing with at the hands of unchecked feds. Realize that more federal money means more control over your everyday lives.