Capdiamont\’s Weblog

Rail and Trail around Humboldt Bay

I admit being nervous how the committee process would go.  As I told NCRA at their last meeting, what they came up with was very smart. Now we have a rail with trail process around the bay. This gives our area the political capital and economic benefits we need to implement the plan a single way could not. I knew that not all the ties needed to be replaced, and the rail did not need to be replaced, yet you naysayers would not listen. We can finally move forward now that the “squeeze” folks have quieted down. For those who continue to doubt normal maintenance can raise the rail-bed effectively for sea level rise, please understand NCRA already has done this as part of the rebuilding process. They raised the trestle down in Novato. On either side the track needed to  be raised to match the bridge.

I am a part of this process. I do not have a problem with putting a trail along side the rail. I do have a problem with removing the rail for a trail in these vital areas. We need the tourist train. The tourist train is about diversification of our economy.

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ER: Panel of experts talks rails and trails
Wednesday 23 Apr 2008, 07:14
Filed under: Humboldt, NCRA, Railroad | Tags:

By NATHAN RUSHTON, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Apr 22 2008, 11:37 PM · Updated: Apr 23 2008, 12:15 AM
Category: Local News
Panelists in the “Rails and Trails: A Balanced Forum on the Development of Humboldt Bay” held by the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County Tuesday night discuss the viability of trails or railroads in the county.

It’s a few short miles of railroad tracks between Eureka and Arcata owned by the North Coast Railroad Authority.

But, as the NCRA struggles to secure funding to restore trains along its rusting rails, the unused right-of-way is being eyed by trail advocates and has become one of the focal points of political debate over the county’s economic and lifestyle future.

The League of Women Voters of Humboldt County held a forum Tuesday evening from 6 to 8, in hopes of presenting the public with unbiased information regarding the feasibility of trails and railroads in the county and to facilitate a dialogue on the issues.

It was a forum that all the panelists in the “Rails and Trails: A Balanced Forum on the Development of Humboldt Bay” agreed was educational and helpful, but in then end, there was no budging any of the sides.

The panel of speakers included Patrick Higgins, a Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner, Chris Rall, of GreenWheels, Third District Supervisor John Woolley, Marcus Brown, president of the Timber Heritage Association, Spencer Clifton, executive director of the Humboldt County Association of Governments, Brian Morrissey, of Security National, and Mike Beuttner, of the Trails Trust of Humboldt.

Woolley, also the county’s representative to the NCRA’s board of directors, reiterated the NCRA’s commitment to support trails and even rails with trails, but stressed the public agency’s primary mandate enacted by the Legislature.

That’s to restore the 300-mile railroad corridor, now defunct for a decade, back to working order and to keep the momentum of the $100 million already invested in the process already underway.

“To give up now, would be imprudent,” Woolley said.

But Rall, who advocated for a trail along the Eureka-Arcata corridor he said is viable now, questioned whether the NCRA’s mandate was still valid.

Rall said it might be time to return to the Legislature to craft more realistic goals for the railroad agency.

The cost to restore the NCRA’s railroad through the geologically unstable Eel River canyon, which all the panelists agreed would be in the hundreds of millions — is a major hurdle that some said they believe will never be overcome.

Editors Note: More complete coverage of this two-hour event will be published in an upcoming newspaper.

TS: Earth Day Rails and trails forum
Friday 18 Apr 2008, 05:14
Filed under: Humboldt, NCRA, Railroad, THA | Tags:

The League of Women Voters of Humboldt County is presenting — Rails and Trails: A Balanced Forum on the Development of Humboldt Bay — Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the new Eureka High Lecture Hall. Parking is available in the J Street and Humboldt Parking Lot.

The forum is being held to present the public with unbiased information regarding the feasibility of trails or the railroads in Humboldt County with the opportunity for questions.

It will be moderated by Byrd Lochtie. The panel includes Brian Morrissey of Security National, Marcus Brown of the Timber Heritage Society, Supervisor John Woolley of the North Coast Railroad Authority, Commissioner Patrick Higgins of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District, Spencer Clifton of the Humboldt County Association of Governments, and Mike Buettner of the Trails

Sarah Reid 444-9252 or 916-893-8112

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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

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 Kansas landowners suing over federal Trails Act
Monday 24 Mar 2008, 09:31
Filed under: Railroad | Tags:

Trails and tribulations Ownership of abandoned rails is at question in suits
The Wichita Eagle
Jerramy Pankratz has an old railroad track going through his backyard. Now that they want to make trails from the old railroad tracks, Jerramy thinks he should be compensated.
Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle
Jerramy Pankratz has an old railroad track going through his backyard. Now that they want to make trails from the old railroad tracks, Jerramy thinks he should be compensated.
Jerramy Pankratz walks with his four-year-old son Wyatt down an old railroad track thats sits on the back of his property in Andover.Rails to Trails

1,409: Number of recreational trails developed nationwide under the federal Trails Act. There are rail trails in almost every state.

1,206: Number of trails in development, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

6 years: Statute of limitations for affected property owners to file claims for reimbursement from the government.

20: Property owners in Kansas who won’t receive reimbursements because of the statute of limitations.

Two Kansas landowners have sued for compensation after the government took old railroad rights of way on their properties — but unless Congress intervenes, only one is likely to get paid.

The aim was to turn the old tracks into recreational trails. But the cases illustrate how federal rails-to-trails programs can lead to decades of legal conflict.

The controversy over rail-trail conversions has been brewing since Congress passed the federal Trails Act 25 years ago. It allowed the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to give unused railroad lines back to states to use as recreational trails. But adjoining landowners began asking why that property wasn’t returned to them.

In Butler County, a young couple has an abandoned railroad track running through their property.

In McPherson County, a 95-year-old cattle farmer lives with a recreational rail trail that splits his property.

Compensation — if any is granted — could range from getting the use of their land back to being paid for the time the government has held rights to the land.

“On literally both sides of Wichita you have both different hypothetical situations under the same law,” said Thor Hearne, a St. Louis lawyer who has made a career out of handling such cases.

Since 1983, the Trails Act has helped convert more than 1,400 dormant railroad tracks to trails for hiking, biking, walking and horseback riding throughout Kansas and the rest of the country.

Two Kansas cases

The rail-trail cases disproportionately affect the Midwest, where farmers and ranchers own large tracts of land.

The Butler County couple, Jerramy Pankratz, 31, and his wife, Erin, 29, own a home just outside the Andover city limits with an abandoned rail track in the back of their 11 acres.

They got word this month that a federal judge will consider whether the government should pay them for the nearly three years it has held the rail easement, while the cities of Andover and Augusta continue to debate if it should be converted into a trail.

The McPherson County cattleman, Royer Barclay, hasn’t been paid for a former railway converted to a trail that cuts a swath across his 300-acre farm south of Lindsborg.

A different court ruled two years ago that he’s not owed money because he didn’t file his claim on time.

The rail-trail cases go the U.S. Federal Court of Claims, a small arm of the federal court system in Washington, D.C., that handles cases against the government worth more than $10,000.

A federal judge ruled this month that she will hear arguments that could lead to the government paying for the time it ties up the Pankratzes’ land, whether or not a trail is built.

“We think that was a big win for us, because we’re getting a hearing on an issue after a long delay,” Hearne said.

He said the Pankratzes’ lawsuit could help settle cases across the country and make it easier for landowners to get paid.

But while they wait for a decision, no one has been able to use the land.

“It’s been kind of frustrating, because if you have a four-wheeler or something, and you leave it parked there, you can get a ticket for it,” Jerramy Pankratz said. “But technically it’s our land.”

The conversion to a trail also may affect how much land the property owners could lose. Rails span about 12 feet, but trails can take upmuch more, according to court records.

Rail line history

There’s a reason it has taken the court decades to sort this out. The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protects property owners from the government seizing their land, but it’s not that simple.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that landowners affected by the Trails Act should receive “just compensation.” Property might fall in this category when tracks change from active railways to potential trails.

Sorting out the history of old railroad lines isn’t easy. The U.S. railways have held much of the land since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, obtaining it in various ways.

“Sometimes they bought deeds from the landowners,” William Shapiro, a civil lawyer from the U.S. Department of Justice, explained in court transcripts. “Sometimes they were given permission to condemn the land… and sometimes they were granted the land by the federal government.”

Under federal law, the government owns abandoned rail lines.

Some landowners have taken issue with that. Getting the land back could increase their property values — sometimes dramatically.

Estimates have not been made on the value of the land involved in either Kansas case. But appraisals elsewhere show a rail-trail can decrease property values. Among the concerns property owners have is that trails cut their property in two and can lead to heavier traffic.

“We had one trail running through suburban St. Louis that came to about $4 million a mile,” Hearne said.

Help from Congress

Royer Barclay and about 100 other landowners across the country won’t get paid because of an earlier ruling.

In a precedent-setting case, a split federal court dismissed a claim in Georgia, saying land wasn’t taken when a trail was built, but rather when the railroad stopped running.

That ruling affected Barclay and others who hadn’t filed their claims until more than six years after railways were abandoned, when they found out trails were being developed.

The court decision led to property owners in Kansas, California and Missouri losing any right to compensation.

Congress is trying to fix that. A pair of bipartisan bills sponsored by senators and representatives from Missouri has been introduced, dubbed the Trails Act Technical Correction Act of 2007.

The bill is being considered by a House subcommittee and a Senate committee.

It would retroactively change the law so Barclay and others would be paid for the use of their land.

“The landowners want this law passed, and it would save money,” Hearne said. “The property owners now have to file a lawsuit, and it costs the taxpayers money. This would make it easier to negotiate trails.”

Last week, Barclay considered the trail on his property.

“It cuts right through it,” he said. “I’ve thought from the very beginning, we should receive something for it.”

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