Rails to Trails: A Train Wreck for Unlucky Landowners?
|November 19, 2013||Posted by Staff under Land Disputes|
This 2013 excerpt of Reason, Oct 27, is by Kathryn Ciano.
Rails to Trails is a government program to convert abandoned railroad tracks to recreational trails. Sounds great, except that the tracks run over private property, and the private landowners haven’t been paid for this permanent land grab. A case before the Supreme Court this term, Brandt v. United States, demonstrates the program’s problems.
In 1988, a century after contracts were signed, the federal government passed a “Railbanking” law to preserve its possession and establish its right to turn abandoned railroad tracks into recreational parks. This was not what landowners had agreed to and was not within the terms of the government’s limited right to use others’ land.
Converting the tracks into a trail makes the government’s use of the land permanent rather than temporary and conditional on the railroad’s use. It also changes the nature of how the government plans to use the land. If the government wants to convert the expired railroad easement into a recreational trail, it should pay compensation for this new, permanent taking.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief on landowners’ behalf.
In 1875 the government paid landowners minuscule sums of money for the right to run tracks on private property. The government never attempted to make a clean purchase or negotiate permanent takings under the doctrine of eminent domain.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti warned Congress that then-pending rails-to-trails cases across the country involved 4,550 private property owners and exposed the government to over $57 million in constitutionally-required compensation for these takings.
Property rights are one of the more fundamental principles of free society. The government cannot avoid the Constitution by avoiding the most basic principles of ownership. The Supreme Court should respect landowners’ common law rights and expectations and grant quiet title to the Brandts, or else require the government to pay just compensation for taking the Brandts’ land.
Ed. Note: Would owners be so eager to get back land they’re not using if they (and everyone) had to pay Land Dues or a land tax? Talk about compensation, shouldn’t owners compensate those whom they exclude from some Earth, the planet being our mutual heritage? And why call the property “private” since the privacy of the owners — far removed from remote trails — is not in question?
Owning land does convey benefits and rights but also duties. The rental value of land belongs not to the owner but is owed by the owner to their community. That’s because owners did not create the land nor buy it from any creator and the community as a whole generates the land’s rental value.
Yet owners can wear a happy face and need not worry. Since all owners would be paying in dues and all residents would be getting back dividends, an equal share of the recovered rents. While sharing makes materialists feel threatened and raises their hackles, the very same people cite Singapore as one of the freest places in the world. Ironically, that Asian city uses a system very much like this geonomic one herein described.