Ron Johnson's "Victim of Government" Nothing More Than a Really Stupid Real Estate Developer | WisCommunity

Ron Johnson's "Victim of Government" Nothing More Than a Really Stupid Real Estate Developer

[img_assist|nid=394801|title=|desc=1929 map had area of Stephen Lathrop's development drawn as a lake. |link=none|align=left|width=300|height=216]Meet real estate developer not-so-extraordinaire, Stephen Lathrop.

In 1990, Lathrop bought a tract of swamp land, in a floodplain, on the cheap, with visions of turning it into a real estate development.  The area he bought was called the Dobrey Slough and, as the name of this parcel implies, it was a low lying marshy land on the outskirts of one of the Mississippi River's favorite flooding areas: Granite City, Illinois.  Did I mention it was in a floodplain? 


Lathrop's plan entailed filling in the swampy areas, creating a "lake" over a part of the area that had been an old garbage dump, and putting houses around it.  The only problem is that you can't just fill in wetlands, build a lake on top of an old dump, have it drain into nearby waterways, in a floodplain, and not get on the radar screen of the Army Corps of Engineers. 

And that's exactly what happened:  The Army Corps of Engineers said that Lathrop failed to get a so called Section 404 permit.  Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires that you establish a program to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands.  The Corps also didn't give him the necessary permission to build in a floodplain.

Lathrop's apparent plight caught the attention of the National Association of Home Builders and in 1995, NAHB President Mark Tipton testified before a hearing on the Clean Water Act about the Lahtrop's "unknowing violation of the Clean Water Act."  Tipton presented Lathrop as a victim, saying "as a result of his lost investment and his attempts to work with, and in the end fight the federal government, Mr. Lathrop has gone virtually bankrupt, having been forced to take a maintenance job to put food on the table."

Yes, who'd a thought that developing wetlands in a Mississippi River floodplain required a permit!

In 2001, shorty after George Bush took office and to the outrage of local anti-flooding activists, the Corps gave permission for Lathrop to build on the flood plain, but still kept-open the case of his building a lake without getting the proper permits.

Lathrop, however, then claimed that he didn't have the money for the project because, he says, financial backers that had been on board had backed out because of a conspiracy against him from the Granite City mayor and other city officials.  A few years later, Lathrop (serving as his own attorney) sued the Granite City officials. The judge Lathrop's suit and called the conspiracy theory claim "absurd" in the decision.  The city engineer counter sued Lathrop, saying he “did not have the business sense and/or resources to properly run his own business".

Flash forward to 2013:  U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, desperately searching beyond the borders of his own state for a posterchild for his "Victims of Government" project, claims that he-- not the National Association of Home Builders-- had discovered the Stephen Lathrop story and jumps into it head first.  Johnson named Lathrop as his first "victim" and described the situation as, "an unbelievable example of the type of bureaucratic insanity that goes on day after day and effects millions of Americans." 

"Victim of Government"?  Seriously?   This is the same Lathrop that asked for  $750,000 in TIF money, a low interest goverment loan for $400,000 and got the city to annex his proposed developement area so that it would have city (government) services.  And, ironically, Johnson wasted a gazillion taxpayer dollars producing a ridiculously distorted video that martyrized the Lathrop's "victim of government" story. 

The only "victims of government" that will ever come out of Stephen Lathrop story are the future homeowners that are suckered into buying one of Lathop's future floodplain homes if he ever does get his act together enough to build one.  The only failure of government here is when the Army Corps of Engineers rolled over and gave Lathrop permission to build on a floodplain at all.

But, we should give Senator Ron Johnson credit:  He has given a great example of our government failing to properly regulate building in wetlands and in a floodplain!  More action is needed! Thank you for the call to action, Senator Johnson!

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Published

April 5, 2013 - 1:22pm

Author

randomness