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The CHAIRMAN. Thank you so much.

Mr. Chaconas, if you can limit yourself to 5 minutes, I would appreciate it.

STATEMENT OF JOHN J. CHACONAS Mr. CHACONAS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to make a quick preface to my testimony and make an acknowledgment to Senator Biden, probably the first politician I had the opportunity to vote for when I was a junior at Delaware.

Senator BIDEN. You just badly hurt yourself with this committee, but thank you.

Mr. CHACONAS. It is just kind of coincidental. I wish in that case that Senator Thurmond was here right now. I voted for him for 14 years after I moved south from Delaware into South Carolina, and I regard him as one of my personal

Senator BIDEN. I guess it must be the air.

Mr. CHACONAS. It must be the air. I regard him as one of my personal heroes, but I did want to make that acknowledgment.

Senator BIDEN. Thank you.
Mr. CHACONAS. Thank you.

We are going into a dark subject here, but you called it simple, wetlands cases, section 404. We have seen the darker side of it having been a political football, and that is what we are here to talk about.

I offer my deepest and most sincere thanks to the committee chairman and distinguished Senator for the opportunity to speak today. I come here today as a citizen, father, and Navy veteran. I am not affiliated with any environmental organization.

My father taught me that duty, service, and honor to God, family, and America are the ethics to live by. I believe that through good stewardship, the resources entrusted to me by God are as im. portant as the Constitution you and I have sworn to defend and protect. These basic family values give me and my family a deep and abiding faith in God that has sustained us throughout this ordeal.

I own a home and property in Ascension Parish, LA, which has come to symbolize the issues this committee is addressing. This home was built on wetlands, in violation of the Clean Water Act. I have been portrayed as the victim of an unfair law and overzealous bureaucrats, and I want to set the record straight.

We have seen our story and some others that don't pass a simple truth test being used to gain political momentum for the takings issue. Some politicians expose only the tip of the iceberg and what lies below the tip is the underlying question, does existing wetlands policy work and can the public and a critical natural resource remain protected

Our overwhelming fear is that if takings legislation is successful, it will lead to an emasculation of the Clean Water Act and act as a domino to topple other critical protections afforded by Federal law. This would leave the public to fend for themselves in endless litigation, pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and individual against larger and big interests.

Í believe wetland regulations can and do work well, with over 99 percent of the permits being applied for approved. As with any policy, though, there are people who abuse it and use their land in ways that harm neighboring properties. In our situation, over a period of 3 years about 8 acres of wetlands were destroyed. Timber was cleared, a house and road were built, and a pond was excavated, displacing almost 9,000 cubic yards of dirt over a 4-acre area.

As for violations, the EPA only recognizes 2.5 acres out of the 4 acres on our property that were destroyed, and ignores an additional 4 acres of the wetlands on the adjacent piece. For these actions, conducted without permits, the previous property owner has been charged as a willful and flagrant violator by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. As current owner, I am named as coviolator.

The record is clear that nearly all this property had always been a swamp and that the previous owners had discussed wetlands regulations with the Soil Conservation Service even before they began developing it, but they went ahead anyway. The land was drained, the pond was excavated, and fill was deposited to make what had been a low point in the swamp higher than the adjacent land. The natural water drainage was disturbed, averting water onto land never previously designated as wetlands.

What has happened to the neighbors? As one wrote, each cubic yard of fill displaces a cubic yard of water on my and my neighbor's property. When it rains, another has wetland intrusion around his pecan trees. All these neighbors have declared that their property is devalued as a result of the wetlands destruction where my home now stands. These neighbors went on to say how astonished they were to hear their Congressman is seeking compensation for the violator of this property who sold his rights of ownership to me in December of 1993.

I ask you, then, who are the real victims here. What has happened to our rights and those of our neighbors and other property owners? Should a person who knowingly destroys wetlands be portrayed as an innocent victim and be held up as an example for compensation? I don't think so.

We didn't seek to buy wetlands. We wanted a home and property with a pasture for horses and 4-H livestock for our children. That is what we thought we bought in December of 1993. It appeared to be open pasture, solid, high, dry, flat land, perfect for our plans all around our home. Today, you can't walk' io feet out the front door without being ankle-deep in water and heavy clay mud.

We have been pawns of the EPA's delay and indecision, and seen our family name used as a political football tossed about on the floor of Congress. In these accounts, the names are accurate, but the rendition lacks the ring of truth. For the past year, the EPA has been the lead agency. To date, it hasn't issued any corrective actions, nor has it initiated any judicial proceedings, and it hasn't responded to most correspondence.

Sources within the EPA cite political pressure favoring the previous owners as the cause for their inaction. Yet, we still count the EPA as our ally because we know the majority of the people in the EPA seek to make the wetlands program work right. The fault here is not wetland policy gone awry; it is the abuse of that policy. A Congressman described this as government arrogance. He is wrong. The arrogance here is with those who misuse wetlands policy. It is also with those who use our situation to further their agenda.

There is a need for the Clean Water Act and wetlands protections. They should be enforced. If existing policy and regulations had been enforced, I would not need to be here today. Property rights are essential, and like most Americans I believe my property rights do not include harming my neighbor's property. What is wrong here is the arrogant belief that some can do whatever they want with their property and all others be damned. The only remedy left for those neighbors adversely affected is for them to sue one another or to take on the giants of industry and larger interests alone.

If enacted, the Omnibus Property Rights Act of 1995 will do to Louisiana and much of the South what General Sherman and the Federal army could not do. It would force the Government to buy it. I believe the true target of pending legislation and political agendas is to torpedo a wetlands policy that has proven to be workable and flexible.

The day of reckoning is near for responsible government, so don't throw money at problems or offer false hope to homeowners like me or my neighbors, who haven't been offered anything, by the way, when the true beneficiaries will be large land owners, speculators, and developers. People like us are being used as grist for the political mill to spin a story and gain support of a cause that is really meant as a time bomb and a death knell to Federal policy on the Clean Water Act.

Political groups are clearing a pathway whereby large interests will do as they wish, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the public. The Constitution never guaranteed that what we do with our property is a right to harm others or infringe on their right to quiet, peaceful possession.

When I served on a nuclear ballistic missile submarine during the Cold War, we referenced the everpending apocalypse on the doomsday clock. The clock has started ticking again, and if we don't wake up the earth and its resources, as we know it, may not be the same again.

Again, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Some people thought this was a forum for us in our civil litigation. This is the Judiciary Committee. I think you can be the judge that my comments were mostly that as a father and an outdoorsman.

I would like to introduce my wife - I should have done that earlier-Cynthia Chaconas. She has been my support and behind me the whole way.

[The prepared statement of Mr. Chaconas follows:]

PREPARED STATEMENT OF JOHN J. CHACONAS TO THE COMMITTEE: I offer my deepest and most sincere thanks to the Committee Chairman and distinguished Senators for the opportunity to speak today.

I come here today as a citizen, father and Navy veteran. I am not affiliated with any environmental organization. My father taught me that duty, service, and honor to God, family and America are the ethics to live by. I believe that through good stewardship, the resources entrusted to me by God are as important as the constitution you and I have sworn to defend and protect. These basic family values give me and my family a deep and abiding faith in God that has sustained us throughout this ordeal.

I own a home and property in Ascension Parish, Louisiana which has come to symbolize the issues this committee is investigating. This home was built on wetlands in violation of the Clean Water Act. I have been portrayed as the victim of an unfair law and over zealous bureaucrats. I want to set the record straight. We have cooperated fully with the Corps of Engineers and the EPA for 15 months. We sought the aid of our congressman but instead have become victims of larger interests pursuing their agenda to dismantle wetlands policy through takings legislation.

We have seen our story and others that don't pass a simple "truth test” being used to gain political momentum for the takings issue. Being conservative by nature, and by seeking out the truth, we came to believe that the thought process that generates this legislation tends to disregard the rights of neighboring property owners. Politicians and the media expose only the tip of the iceberg. What lies below the tip is the underlying question: Does existing wetland policies work and can the public and a critical natural resource remain protected?

Our overwhelming, long term fear is that if "takings” is successful it will lead to an emasculation of the Clean Water Act and act as a domino to topple other critical protections afforded by federal law. This would leave the public to defend themselves in endless litigation pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and the individual against the larger interests of big business.

The fact is my family and I have been played as pawns by politicians to justify their opposition to current wetlands law. I believe wetlands regulations can and do work well with over 99 percent of the permits applied for being approved. As with any policy though, there are people who abuse it, and use their land in ways that harm neighboring properties.

Let me briefly review the situation involving my land. Over a period of three years, about eight acres of wetlands were destroyed. Timber was cleared, a house and road were built, a pond was excavated, displacing almost 9,000 cubic yards of dirt over four acres. For violation purposes, the EPA only recognizes 2.5 acres out of four acres of destroyed wetlands on my property, and, in turn, they ignore the additional four acres of destroyed wetlands on the adjacent piece.

For these actions, conducted without proper permits, the previous property owner has been charged as a "willful and flagrant" violator by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers. As the current owner, I am named as a co-violator. (See attachment)

The record is clear that nearly all of this property had always been a swamp, and that the previous owners had discussed wetlands regulations with the Soil Conservation Service even before they began developing it. (See attachment)

But they went ahead anyway. The land was drained. A pond was excavated. Fill was deposited to make what had been a low point in the swamp higher than adjacent land. The natural water drainage was disturbed, diverting water onto land never previously designated as wetlands.

And, what has happened to the neighbors? as one wrote, (See attached, Jerry Hanna, Itr dtd 02/20/95) “Each cubic yard of fill displaces a cubic yard of water on my and my neighbor's properties.” A second neighbor can't access his property when it rains, and another has water and wetland intrusion around his Pecan Trees. All of these neighbors have declared that their property is devalued as a result of the wetlands destruction where my home now stands. They went on to say how astonished they were to learn that their congressman is seeking compensation for the violator of this property who sold all his rights of ownership in December of 1993.

I ask you then, "Who are the real victims here?". What has happened to our rights and those of the other property owners? Should a person who knowingly destroys wetlands be portrayed as an innocent victim and be held up as an example for compensation.

We didn't seek to buy wetlands. We wanted a home and property with a pasture for horses and 4-H livestock for our children. That's what we thought we bought in December of 1993. It appeared to be open pasture * * * solid, high, dry, flat land *** perfect for our plans all around our home. Today you can't walk ten feet out our front door without being ankle deep in water and heavy clay mud. We've had frogs stream in through the door and water moccasins swimming by our bedroom windows.

A government hydrologist has told us our property has flooded in the past and will food again in the future. We watch the approach of every weather system with dread.

We are pawns of EPA delay and indecision and see our family name used as a political football tossed about on the floor of Congress. In these accounts the names are accurate but the rendition lacks the truth. For the past year the EPA has been the lead agency. To date, it hasn't issued any corrective actions, nor has it initiated any judicial proceedings and it hasn't responded to most correspondence. Sources within the agency cite political pressure favoring the previous owners as the cause for EPA's delay.

On the other hand, representatives from the U.S. Corps of Engineers have been true gentlemen from the outset showing concern for us, the neighbors, and the environment. The same can be said for EPA scientists.

The fault here is not wetland policy it is the abuse of that policy. I heard a Congressman describe this as government arrogance. He's wrong! The arrogance here is with those who misuse wetlands policy. It is also with those who use our situation to further their agenda. There is a need for clean water act wetlands protections. They should be enforced. If existing policy and regulations had been enforced I would not need to be here today.

Property rights are essential. Like most Americans I believe my property rights do not extend to harming the property of my neighbors. What is wrong here is not wetland policy, gone awry, but the arrogant belief that some can do whatever they want with their property and all others be damned. The only remedy left for those neighbors adversely affected is for them to sue one another or take on the giants of industry and larger interests alone.

If enacted, the Omnibus Property Rights Act of 1995 will do to Louisiana and much of the south what General Sherman and the federal army could not do. It would force the Government to buy it. Common sense tells us that government can't afford to buy all that will be devalued.

I believe the true target of pending legislation and political agendas is to torpedo a wetlands policy that has proven to be workable and flexible.

The day of reckoning is near for responsible government. Don't throw money at problems or offer false hope to homeowners when the true beneficiaries will be large land owners, speculators and developers.

People like me are being used as grist for the political mill, to spin a story, to gain support of a cause that is really meant as a time bomb...a death knell to federal policy on the Clean Water Act. Political groups are clearing a pathway whereby large interests will do as they wish regardless of the consequences for the rest of us.

The Constitution never guaranteed that what we do with our property is a right to harm others or infringe on their rights to quiet, peaceful possession.

When I served on a nuclear ballistic missile submarine during the cold war we referenced the ever pending apocalypse on the “doomsday clock”. The doomsday clock has started ticking again and if we don't wake up the earth and it's resources, as you know it, may not be the same again. Respectfully submitted,

JOHN J. CHACONAS, JR.
CYNTHIA L. CHACONAS.

ATTACHMENTS
Soil Conservation Service field Notes
COE Wetland Determination
Edwin W. Edwards Governor of LA, 2-ltrs dtd 7/12/94
EPA internal memorandum faxed 08/23/94
John Breaux-Senator, Ltr dtd 09/16/94
Robert Perciasepe-Asst. Administrator, EPA ltr dtd 08/31/94
Kenneth H. Clow, Col. U.S. Army, COE ltr dtd 08/22/94
J. Chaconas, Itr dtd 09/23/94
Annette Sharp–LA Governor's Chief of Staff, Itr dtd 9/27/94
W.E. Tickner-Chief Eng. Div., COE Memo dtd 10/07/94
Neighbor's Witness Statements (9) to EPA, 10/94
J. Chaconas, Itr dtd 11/4/94
J. Chaconas, Itr dtd 01/07/95
Jerry Hanna, Itr dtd 02/20/95
Congressional Record, dtd 03/02/95 Tauzin Speech
House Resources Committee, Itr dtd 03/08/95
Paul Suir, Itr dtd 03/09/95
Jerry Hanna, Itr dtd 03/10/95
Danny Hanna, Itr 03/10/95
Paul Suir, Itr dtd 03/13/95
Suir, Hanna, Hanna, Itr 03/29/95

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The above mentioned attachments retained in committee files.) (Letters submitted by Representative Billy Tauzin follow:)

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