Landowners in Humboldt and Mendocino counties with properties adjacent to the old Pacific Northwest Railway could receive compensation from the federal government following the North Coast Railroad Authority’s request to set up a section of the railway bed for the Great Redwood Trail project. At least two law firms have held a series of town halls this month to explain how to file a claim.
Citing a notable US Supreme Court case involving rail-to-trail programs in Vermont, Meghan Largent, a lawyer for the Midwest-based Lewis Rice law firm, said landowners will not be able to reclaim their land but may be eligible for financial assistance. compensation.
“This is eminent domain and the federal government can always take private property for public use, but when it does, it owes fair compensation. It is purely the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution which says: “Private property should not be used for public use without fair compensation either,” Largent said. “The remedy for this is not to stop the trail, not to reclaim your land, but to be compensated at fair market value if, in fact, you had any property taken by the federal government.”
Adam Riley, an attorney with Midwestern-based Flint Law Firm LLC, said landowners could seek significant compensation.
“If the government wants to take your property, it goes through conviction or eminent domain proceedings,” Riley said. “… In some cases the railway may have held a fee simple interest and in that case they would not have a claim, but in most cases the railway only had one servitude.”
The two companies said they were not against building a trail.
“We’re not expressing any idea whether the trail is a good or a bad idea, it isn’t,” Largent said. “What it’s about in our case is that in order to do that, the federal government has to issue an order invoking a federal law called the National Trails System Act and what that provision of the law does is that it erase all California law to the contrary. “
According to the National Trails System Act and the Railway Rights of Way, the Railway Bank Act allows a railway to remove all of its equipment – except bridges, tunnels, and culverts – from a lane and hand the lane to any qualified person. a private or public body to maintain it for future rail use.
“Long story short, if they were to abandon it, landowners who own both sides of the railroad would regain title or regain use of that land because a rail easement is usually exclusive. It’s almost like it’s the owner, but often it’s just an easement, ”Riley said. “… This operation of the (National Trails System Act) prevents that from happening and essentially creates a new easement for a new purpose, which is an easement for a recreational trail as opposed to an easement for a railroad.”
If the use of rail becomes viable in the future, the rail line could be reactivated. Riley said he couldn’t think of any case this had happened in the United States.
As long as companies are properly advising their customers, NCRA lawyer Charles Montagne said the claims would not affect the rail authority.
“We don’t think there is a claim against the NCRA or the State of California from our rail banks,” Montagne said. “If there is a claim, it would only be against the United States. Assuming they are advising their clients properly, they are probably advising clients that all claims will be against the United States… nothing will be against the NCRA in California. As long as we make our railroad bank, everyone is happy.
The Flint law firm will be holding the following town halls this week:
- Tuesday, June 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Recreation Grove Park in Willits.
- Wednesday June 9 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Historic Benbow Inn in Garberville.
- Thursday June 10 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Best Western Plus Bayshore Inn in Eureka.
Lewis Rice will hold the following town halls later this month:
- Monday June 28 from 5:30 p.m. at the Best Western Plus Bayshore Inn in Eureka.
- Tuesday, June 29 starting at 9 a.m. at the Bayside Community Hall in Bayside.
- Tuesday, June 29 from 12 p.m. at the Comfort Inn in Fortuna.
- Tuesday June 29 from 5:30 p.m. at the Willits Center for the Arts in Willits.