Builders File Suit Over Santa Cruz River Decision
The nation’s home builders are challenging a Dec. 8 federal regulatory ruling that an Arizona riverbed fed by runoff from sewers and storm drains is a “traditional navigable water” — a decision with far-reaching implications for home buyers and property owners for miles around.
In concert with the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, NAHB has filed an injunction against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C. on March 23.
NAHB Chairman Joe Robson said that the agencies had made their decision behind closed doors with no opportunity for public scrutiny or input. “There was no notice given to any affected landowners,” he said. “No one could submit evidence or offer other comments — the public was completely shut out of the process. The law says that rulings cannot happen that way.”
Robson added that the federal action fails to live up to the Obama Administration’s pledge “to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.”
By designating the Santa Cruz River a “traditional navigable water,” the federal agencies immediately gain jurisdiction over dry desert washes, arroyos and other water features within the 2.3 million-acre Santa Cruz watershed that would not otherwise qualify as “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Currently, those areas are covered by state and local regulations.
“There is no permanent, flowing water through the Santa Cruz River. It can’t be an ‘interstate highway of commerce’” — which is how a traditional navigable water is defined under the Clean Water Act, Robson said. “The facts do not support the declaration.”
Determinations of Clean Water Act jurisdiction come with a high price tag. In one of its decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that the average applicant for an individual Clean Water Act permit spends 788 days and $271,596 in completing the process, and the average applicant for a nationwide permit spends 313 days and $28,915 — not counting costs of mitigation or design changes.
“As the housing sector and the economy struggle to recover during the current recession, the public must be afforded the opportunity to comment on the economic impact of federal government decisions,” Robson said.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.