Saturday, December 17, 2011

Government Abuse: Rails to Trails

Over the course of the next several weeks I am going to highlight some government abuses that were done in the name of the greater good.

My source of this information was a paper written a few years ago that is chock-full of anecdotal evidence of government abusing their power just because they can. The paper is titled SHATTERED DREAMS: One Hundred Stories of Government Abuse by the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Many of you have heard of the Rails to Trails Act that authorized the government at both the state and federal level to seize land for the development of bike and hiking trails. These bike and hiking trails are being built on abandoned rail lines. There are several in my area that have been converted to such a purpose. Much of the land at one time was actually owned by private landowners, but was taken from them for the development of the railroads. However, when this land was originally taken, provisions and laws were written in such a manner as to return the land back to the original landowners. The railroads had no property rights to the land once they abandoned the land.

Here is one story:

When the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MKT) Railroad decided to abandon a rail line that passed through Jayne and Maurice Glosemeyer’s 240-acre family near Mathasville, Missouri, the Glosemeyer expected to recover the 12 acres of land that had been used by the railroad.

In 1889, Maurice Glosemeyer’s great uncle signed an agreement that allowed the railroad to use this land, but only for railroad purposes. Missouri state law says that once a tight to use someone’s property for a specific purpose is abandoned, the landowner regains the right to use his property. Therefore, the Glosemeyers claim, the land used for the abandoned rail line should revert back to the family.

After the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized MKT’s abandonment of its rail line, the MKT sold its land interest to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for the creation of a recreational bike trail. This action was authorized by the federal Rails-to-Trails Act of 1983. Soon after, the Katy Trail, which passed through the Glosemeyers property on the site of the old rail line, was established. When hikers travel along the 100-foot wide trial, they pose a risk to themselves and the Glosemeyers’ animal if they play with or bother the animals.

Jayne Glosemeyer recalls one incident in which a little girls chased a piglet while her mother looked on approvingly. “The sow could have attacked her… and we could easily have been sued,” noted Mrs. Glosemeyer. Furthermore, the Glosemeyers felt insecure about leaving their farm, even for a weekend, because of the people using a trail traversing their property.

Back when the railroads were first being laid out, the federal government was quite willing to subjugate individual property rights for the railroads. Much of this land was quite valuable as it was along rivers and stream, and in top farmlands. Belatedly, many states and a few federal laws were passed that provided either just compensation for the land or a return of ownership to the original owners.  But as you can see from above, those laws didn’t protect the Glosemeyers.

I also find it interesting that the railroad did not pay (as near as I can tell) “Great Uncle Glosemeyer” any money for the use of the land. And the original agreement was not a transfer of ownership, but a document that permitted the MKT to use the land for a sole purpose: Railroading. Once the MKT decided it no longer wanted to use the land for the agreed purpose, it had the cajones to sell what they actually had no right to sell. That was something.

Read further, because it ends fairly well.

In March 1993, the Glosemeyers filed suit for just compensation for the taking of the their property in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The case was put on hold until a similar case, Presault v. State of Vermont, could be resolved in federal court. After Presault was decided, the Glosemeyers’ case was allowed to proceed. In January 2000, Judge Eric Bruggnik denied the government’s claim that the trail serves a railroad purpose. The MKT had shown no evidence that it would ever restore the land for later use as a rail line, but did show that it had completely abandoned its use of the Glosemeyers’ property.

Finally, Judge Bruggink declared that a “taking” had occurred because state law had created expectations that the Glosemeyers would recover their property without any restrictions. The judge found that if the government wants to pursue a worthy cause, such as the creation of a public trial, it has to pay just compensation for any “takings” that might occur in the process.  According to Jayne Glosemeyer, the family is currently negotiating with the government for attorney’s fees and compensation for taking of its land.  If they cannot reach an agreed amount, the Glosemeyers could return to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to ask a judge to determine the compensation.

UPDATE: It looks like they two parties couldn’t come to an agreement so it had to head back to court. On 19 Dec 2002, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims awarded the Glosemeyers $200,000 as just compensation and $150,000 was awarded to the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented the Glosemeyers in the case.

What I find most interesting about this case was that the judge who handed down the origianl ruling and the subsequent award stuck to the Constitution when they made their rulings. “Rights in private property are more durable than the current majority’s notion of what constitutes a worthy cause,” ruled the court.

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