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$80,000 PERMIT CON
The John Piazza Story

John Piazza, a developer in Mt. Vernon, Washington, had no idea that his application to build a mini-storage complex on a seven-acre parcel of property would mark the beginning of a four-year regulatory struggle over its impact on alleged wetlands.

After getting a conditional permit in April 1991 to build his storage facility, Piazza hired a company to determine if there were wetlands on the site. The company identified three separate areas totaling .31 of an acre that could be considered wetlands. Piazza then applied for a fill permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since the wetlands were so small and isolated, Piazza didn't believe there would be any problem. He was sorely mistaken. In March 1992, the Corps of Engineers initially said a fill permit would be issued within a week. But a month later the Corps of Engineers changed its mind and ordered Piazza to file for another permit because officials thought the wetlands may be more sensitive than originally believed. This led to three years of bureaucratic haggling.

Piazza didn't understand why the Corps of Engineers raised so many objections to his construction plans. The three wetlands that so concerned officials were only wet in the winter months and only one, wetlands "B," held any water during that period. But, as it turns out, wetlands "B" was man-made. A pipe installed on the interstate next to Piazza's land was clogged, which caused water to seep onto his property, creating the standing water. Piazza submitted this information to the Corps of Engineers along with a statement from the previous owner who said that he never saw any standing water on the property in the 26 years he owned it. In addition, aerial photographs clearly showed that there were no wetlands on the site prior to the construction of the highway.

It wasn't until June 1995 that the Corps of Engineers finally approved of Piazza's fill permits. Looking back on the regulatory nightmare that cost him $80,000 in fees for attorneys and consultants, Piazza wonders about the efficiency of the wetlands permitting process. "If I was going to be denied a permit, OK. But if it took me four years to get ones I qualified for, something's wrong."
Source: John Piazza


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