Capdiamont\’s Weblog


Sierra Vista, AZ: Court grants request by landowners in Rails for Trails dispute
Tuesday 8 Apr 2008, 07:19
Filed under: Railroad | Tags:

I lived on post, right next to SV for a while. The tracks going to SV, and to Tombstone haven’t been there for a long while. This what is left of the current railroad. They have abandoned everything south of the explosive plant. Nifty little place, always thought it would make a nice model railroad, with it’s now abandoned narrow gauge in house tracks, and standard gauge mostly receiving tracks.

By Shar Porier
Herald/Review

Published on Friday, April 04, 2008
BISBEE — A federal Court of Claims judge on Tuesday granted a request made by Cochise County residents involved in the lawsuit to regain title to their lands abandoned by the railroad to set a briefing schedule for resolving the legal dispute.

“The judge ordered the Justice Department to file their response to our summary judgment motion within 45 days,” said Thor Hearne, an attorney with Lathrop & Gage in St. Louis.

“The national Rails to Trails has been allowed to advise the court on a matter of law directly affecting the litigation, but we don’t know what they will be arguing.”

The lawsuit involving several Cochise County landowners stems from the abandonment of the rail lines through the San Pedro River Valley and then the lines extending east from Naco to Douglas. When the railroad company decided to abandon the tracks, the land was immediately placed in rail banking.

That allows tracks once abandoned to be reclaimed if a future need arises through a federal law later known as the Rails to Trails Act. Rail banking also allows organizations and governments to use the lands for hiking trails.

At one time, there was discussion about starting a rails-to-trails program in Cochise County, but it didn’t get past the talking phase.

The Ladd family’s 14,000-acre ranch is affected by the railroad lines that bisect their property and run within 500 feet of his home.

“When the railroad tracks were removed, the right of way should have come back to us,” Jack Ladd said in a recent interview. “It was sold as a right of way. The railroad did not buy the land. All we want is clear title to that six miles of right of way so we can maintain the property. The width of the railroad easement varies across the six miles from 100 feet to 200 feet.”

Hearne filed suit last April requesting a ruling on the Ladd’s right to regain title to their land formerly under an easement agreement with the San Pedro Railroad Operating Co.

He asked for compensation to be paid for the time the land was taken from the landowners while a trails program along the abandoned rail lines was negotiated. He says they are due compensation under “the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for the federal government’s taking of their property.”

A total of 80 miles of abandoned lines stretch north and south along the San Pedro River and east and west along highways 92 and 80. Both legs are around 40 miles each. About 50 to 80 properties owners are affected by the rail banking, but only eight property owners initiated the lawsuit. Though the east-west trails program has been abandoned, the north-south up the San Pedro River is still in negotiations by the Trust for Public Lands, Hearne explained.

For the past year, the Department of Justice has been requesting extensions in the case and have said staff has not had sufficient time to research the titles and deeds.

Federal Court of Claims Judge Robert H. Hodges refused the most recent request and ruled an extension was not necessary and that there had been plenty of time to research the case.

But the Department of Justice is wary the lawsuit will become a class-action suit involving many more landowners. They say they cannot complete research if they don’t know what to research, according to court documents.

Hodges concluded that was not true and the only land that mattered was the eight in the suit before him.

“I am very confident that the folks I represent own the land,” Hearne said.

“I am also very confident that they are entitled to compensation. The only matter that is at all ambiguous is the situation for the Ladds and Charlie Miller’s land where the State Transportation Board’s order expired and now there is no trail or possibility of a trail. The federal courts have clearly said that the federal government must pay them for the time when the government interfered with their rights to their land. They must be paid even when no trail is ultimately created.”

The judge will be continuing the hearings sometime in May, Hearne said. The lawsuit also calls for just compensation for the taking of their lands since the railroad’s abandonment.

The families involved in the suit in addition to the Ladd family are the Lindsey family, the Charles Miller family, Valentin and Deborah Castro, the Singletree Ranch, Joseph Heinzl, the Col. Quentin Miller Family Trust and Tammy Windsor Brown.

herald/review reporter Shar Porier can be reached at 515-4692 or by e-mail at shar.porier@bisbeereview.net.

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