In a recent news bulletin, NAHB CEO Jerry Howard warns that a new U.S. Court of Appeals (fourth district) decision on wetlands will "transform virtually every front and backyard in the Mid-Atlantic region adjacent to a man-dug ditch into waterfront property." Let's hope the government stops short of doing that. But this decision could still broaden what's considered a wetland.

Here's how the decision came about. A couple of developers/landowners, James and Rebecca Deaton, bought a 12-acre parcel in Wicomico County, Md., back in 1989, hoping to create a residential subdivision. They received conflicting advice about the feasibility of the site for building and may have ignored an expert who told them that they would need a permit before draining any of the property. Instead, they went ahead and dug a 1,240-foot-long drainage ditch through the 12-acre property that, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, contains wetlands. The excavated soils were piled next to the ditch, a practice known as "sidecasting," which can cause erosion and water pollution. The Appeals court decision found the owners in violation of the Clean Water Act, liable for restoring the property as well as civil penalties.

The moral? Builders would be well-advised to make sure the Corps of Engineers approves plans prior to beginning work in wetland areas.