Imagine yourself as the owner of a number of acres of land. You decide that you want to develop 4 acres for commercial purposes. Being the law abiding citizen you are, you apply to the county for the proper permits to allow you to develop your land.
Then to your surprise, the counties water management district tells you that in order to obtain the permit, you must donate 11 acres of land for conservation purposes plus you must pay $150,000 that will be used for improvements on the water district’s own property. You agree to donate the 11 acres but object to having to pay such an exorbitant fee for their private use, so the water district refuses to grant you the permit you need.
Would you be outraged by the overt extortion attempt by the water district?
This is not an imaginary tale, but really happened to Coy Koontz, Sr, in Orange County Florida. It started fifteen years ago when he applied for permits to commercially develop four acres of his land, the St. Johns River Water Management District demanded that he donate 11 acres for conservation purposes and pay $150,000 that district planned on using to improve their own property.
Koontz, Sr, was outraged. He said he would donate the 11 acres, but felt the $150,000 fee was nothing more than extortion and he refused to pay, especially since the district’s property was miles away from his own. The water district then refused to grant him the permit. Koontz, Sr, filed a lawsuit against the water district’s extortion tactics.
Coy Koontz, Sr., passed away a few years ago before his case was settled. Coy Koontz, Jr, took over for his father and is still fighting the case in court. Fighting with them is the Pacific Legal Foundation. During one of the court hearings involved with this case, Coy Jr, and his wife Linda, were in an elevator with a witness that had just testified for the government. They asked the witness why the water district didn’t just buy the land outright, the witness responded: ‘why would we buy the property when we can get it for free?’ This is the type of government callousness and attitude that the Koontzs and PFL are determined to fight.
Tomorrow, PLF will argue the Koontz’s case before the United States Supreme Court. They plan on using a landmark victory for property rights they won twenty-six years ago in the case of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that permitting processes could not be used for purposes of shaking down or extortion.
We need to pray that they present arguments before the high court that are as compelling as the ones they used 26 years ago and that outcome is the same.