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EDITORIAL: Dirt-road damage drama

Overreach of government is so commonplace anymore that almost nothing comes as a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any more acceptable, particularly when it comes to punishment that far outweighs the crime.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean earlier this month, federal authorities filed a criminal charge against mine owner Robert Earl Ford, who is locked in a dispute with the National Park Service over access to his property near Lake Mead. Mr. Ford is accused of “willfully injuring” government property in March by widening a dirt road that runs through Lake Mead National Recreation Area to his Anniversary Mine. Todd Howard Tomlin, who drove the road grader, also was charged.

At the time, Mr. Ford was trying to lease out the mine for a three-day music and arts festival called Further Future, but the Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management declined to issue permits for the event.

Mr. Ford has tried to improve the road in the past and gotten in trouble for it. In this case, though, the potential penalty is beyond absurd. A government assessment of the damage done to the road was pegged at $1,540. And the penalty for such damages? Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Las Vegas, said the charge against Mr. Ford can carry up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

That sounds more like a penalty for a hardened criminal, not a landowner working on a rural road, in a completely victimless incident. The federal government is notorious for overcharging and could stand to greatly dial it down on many crimes. Mr. Ford’s charge would be a good place to start.

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