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Jewish World Review April 20, 2001 / 27 Nissan, 5761

Michelle Malkin

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Consumer Reports

An Earth Day horror story -- IF environmental regulators get their way, small businessman John Thoburn will spend this Earth Day weekend in jail. The northern Virginia father of three has already been behind bars for more than two months, including a stint in solitary confinement. Did Thoburn dump raw sewage into a stream? Sprinkle asbestos in his employees’ coffee? Spray DDT on unsuspecting customers?

No. Thoburn is locked up because the county government nitpicks of Fairfax, Va., didn’t like the landscaping, food, or music at his family-owned golf course. Call it a case of tree-hugger thuggery.

Thoburn told me in a phone interview from jail: "I'm all in favor of good stewardship of land and of the earth, but what happened to me is senseless overregulation with no public benefit." No benefit except, perhaps, to local government operators of a publicly-subsidized golf course a few miles away that competes directly against Thoburn’s range. His 10-year legal battle with county zoning officials over everything from trees and berms to snacks and an antique jukebox is the dictionary definition of "Kafkaesque."

On February 16, at the request of Fairfax County zoning officials, a local judge cited Thoburn for contempt and threw him in jail for not planting the right trees and not building a berm at his golf park. The court had ordered Thoburn to close his driving range until he complied with the regulations. Thoburn refused. As he sleeps on a jail cell mat among drug dealers and thieves, the government continues to fine him $1,000 each day his completely legal private business remains open. When his wife was threatened with imprisonment, he moved her and his three sons to Texas.

Thoburn planted more than 700 county-mandated trees – including beautiful red sunset maples he picked with his wife - around his range in 1994 and completed construction of a berm over a year ago. The trees added $125,000 to the considerable costs of starting his business and jumping through all the initial regulatory hoops. Now, however, Fairfax County arbitrarily insists that Thoburn uproot and move 98 of the trees to different locations – and that he plant 50 [ital]more[ital] trees and 124 more shrubs.

Officials also wanted him to build the berm 365 feet high, then couldn’t decide if it should be 3 feet lower, Thoburn says. "It was typical bureaucracy. They write two conflicting rules and make it impossible to follow both." County officials changed their tune last month and declared that Thoburn’s crime was in not filing the "proper documentation." The issue was settled while Thoburn sat in jail, but the county still insists on collecting $24,500 in fines for the non-violation violation.

Thoburn’s business has been strangled in red and green tape from day one. When bureaucrats spotted an antique Wurlitzer jukebox at the range, they declared that it was illegal. Regulators slapped him with another violation for pouring Coca-Cola in cups (rather than selling them in bottles or cans) and microwaving hot dogs (instead of serving them cold, which would have brought on the health police) because that constituted illegal "food preparation." The county golf facility, on the other hand, serves beer and hot food without a second glance from regulators.

Public officials defend their treatment of Thoburn with the smugness of royalty and the zealotry of the Hezbollah. "It has nothing to do with Mr. Thoburn personally," Merni Fitzgerald, a county spokeswoman, told the Washington Times. "Our land-use process is what it is."

What it is is theft disguised as environmental do-goodism, and it continues to destroy a private family enterprise so that a competing government-run business can establish a monopoly. I asked Thoburn his thoughts on Earth Day. "Part of the problem that you get into with any movement with a noble cause," he said, "is that it in the end it can be used and abused by people to overregulate other people's lives."

So be careful what your kids plant this weekend in the name of environmentalism. The tree thugs are watching.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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04/13/01: Yawning at black-on-white violence
04/11/01: Not a good IDEA
04/06/01: The Indian giving loophole
04/04/01: Bush’s baseball tax fetish
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03/14/01: George W. Gore?
03/12/01: Ralph & George & Fannie & Freddie
03/08/01: Sen. Robert Byrd, ex-Klansman
02/28/01: Backstreet Boy’s off-key crusade
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02/21/01: Freedom and "the Freak"
02/16/01: Mr. Bush, give back this church
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02/12/01: The FICA tax fakeout
02/07/01: In search of honorable men
02/05/01: Ally McBeal’s trophy baby
02/01/01: Mel and Bill: Bosom buddies
01/29/01: Gun shows under fire
01/24/01: American citizenship for sale?
01/22/01: Look who supports AmeriCorps
01/17/01: Some questions about Elaine Chao
01/15/01: What America owes me
01/10/01: Temptation and trash TV
01/05/01: Cop-haters welcome in Hollywood
01/02/01: Ignoring a hate crime in D.C.
12/26/00: Use ultrasound to combat abortion
12/26/00: Pardon Clinton? Just say no!
12/21/00: Smacking down free speech
12/18/00: Brace yourselves for Floridation
12/14/00: Blame enviros for electric mess
12/11/00: UNICEF's deadly mission
12/06/00: The Amish vs. the feds
12/04/00: Downey and the Drug War
11/29/00: Let the sun shine on the Supremes
11/22/00: Peace prize for a murderer?
11/20/00: Baby Boom parents are asleep on the job
11/15/00: Fog horns of the Fourth Estate
11/10/00: Who cares about election fraud now?
11/08/00: Ms. Houston, you have a problem
11/03/00: The Million Mom Murmur
11/01/00: GOP revolutionaries head for the hills
10/27/00: My impeachment referendum
10/25/00: Gore’s Good Daddy Gambit
10/23/00: Tribulations of a dubious 'tribe'
10/20/00: Pharmaceutical butchers of Beijing
10/16/00: How the West was seized
10/12/00: Fight the anti-pesticide pests
10/10/00: Moochers at the multiplex
10/05/00: Pay for your own day care
10/02/00: Not every senior demands a handout
09/27/00: Racial hype at the Olympics
09/25/00: Watch the other Washington
09/20/00: Textbook case of media arrogance
09/18/00: New York: Land of medical pork
09/13/00: Voices from the womb
09/11/00: No cure for generational pain
09/08/00: Notes on a West Coast wilding
09/06/00: Race matters at Washington Post
09/01/00: For those who labor 24/7
08/28/00: There's something about Rudy
08/25/00: A conservative case against Napster
08/22/00: Death Row Marv mocks justice
08/18/00: The party of Maxine Waters
08/14/00: "Make-A-Wish" shoots down dreams
08/10/00: Who will stop Bill Lann Lee?
08/07/00: Emily Dickinson's lesson for rude drivers
08/03/00: Leave the slogans behind
07/31/00: Hey, GM: Build cars, not quotas
07/28/00: Stop milking The Juice
07/24/00: Silencing Jeff Jacoby
07/21/00: Score another one for TV execs who want to keep us brain-dead
07/17/00: Can somebody say McStupid?
07/12/00: Beware of Ugly Building Syndrome
07/10/00: The miracle of a lead pencil
07/07/00: Partying on the people’s dime
06/29/00: When "Indians" exploit their own
06/23/00: Kids in a public school daze
06/21/00: Fed up with Fannie and Freddie
06/19/00: D.C.'s gag order for Christians
06/16/00: Dads, daughters, and PETA's spoilsports
06/13/00: Tune out Eminem's pitiful "poetry"
06/07/00: "Pained" Dem leader Torricelli deserves to feel some; Why hasn't he?
06/05/00: Tom Green's hidden health-care lesson
06/01/00: Farming out the pork
05/30/00: The perils of medical quackery
05/26/00: Awarding medals by race is a disgrace
05/22/00: Have Simon & Schuster execs lost their minds!?
05/17/00: Sports plebes vs. plutocrats
05/15/00: Whitewashing Red China's record
05/12/00: Our mothers' hands
05/08/00: Focus on the real Waco
05/05/00: An Internet victim's sad story
05/03/00: Phony pooh-bahs of journalism
05/01/00: Zoo tragedy triggers dumb reaction
04/24/00: Ecoterrorists on the loose
04/19/00: Beware of Elian's psychobabblers
04/17/00: The truth about Erin Brockovich
04/13/00: In defense of an armed citizenry
04/10/00: Playing hardball with taxpayers
04/06/00: Read W.'s lips: More new spending
04/04/00: The liberal media-in-training
03/31/00: Sticking it to the children
03/28/00: Declaring war on HOV lanes
03/22/00: Clinton and the Echo Boomers
03/17/00: Is Bush a Liddy Dole Republican?
03/13/00: Katie and the politics of disease
03/10/00: Maria H, Granny D, and the media Z's
03/07/00: Bubba Van Winkle wakes up
03/03/00: Double standard for day traders?
02/28/00: Sluts and nuts --- and our daughters
02/24/00: Zoning out religious freedom
02/15/00: The Baby Brain Boondoggle
02/10/00: Buddhist temple untouchables
02/08/00: CDC: Caught Devouring Cash
02/04/00: Hillary's poisoned poster child
02/01/00: Corporate welfare on ice
01/28/00: The silly sound of silence
01/26/00: The Old Media meltdown
01/20/00: The pied pipers of KidCare
01/18/00: Our imperious judiciary
01/14/00: Tune out Columbine chorus
01/12/00: Dying to be an American
01/10/00: Time for smokers' revolt?
12/30/99: Reading, writing, PlayStation?
12/27/99: Fight money-grubbing mallrats
12/23/99: Christmas for Cornilous Pixley
12/20/99: Who will help the Hmong?
12/16/99: Shame on corn-fed politicians
12/13/99: EPA vs. the American Dream
12/09/99: Look behind the Pokemon curtain
12/06/99: Amateur hour in Seattle
11/30/99: Stop the Ritalin racketeers
11/23/99: Welfare for a sports fatcat
11/19/99: Jeb Bush's political ploy of the week
11/16/99: Ben & Jerry serve up junk science
11/12/99: A monumental waste of our veterans' resources
11/10/99: Tax-and-spend schizophrenia
11/05/99: Spooky Guy Haunts the Capital
11/02/99: Mourning the loss of the last Liberty Tree
10/27/99: AOL goes AWOL on parents
10/22/99: The persecution of Harry Potter
10/20/99: Don't doctor the law
10/14/99: The trouble with kids today
10/12/99: Pro-animal, pro-abortion, anti-speech?
10/07/99: Beltway press corps needs more skunks
09/30/99: ESPN overlooks athlete of faith, grace, and guts
09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
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07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
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07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
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06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

© 2001, Creators Syndicate