More than 25 landowners in Racine County, Wisconsin, have filed inverse condemnation claims against the federal government for the taking of their land abutting the 10-mile-long Soo Line Railroad corridor.
The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad acquired the railroad line in 1918 after it was originally established in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The railroad corridor was acquired from landowners who granted the railroad a right-of-way easement to operate a railway line across the strip of land. Under the terms of the original conveyances and Wisconsin law, when a railroad no longer operated across the land, the easements terminated, and the present-day owners regained unencumbered titled to the land.
In January 2014, the Railroad sought to abandon the rail line and transfer it to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for its planned extension of the White River State Trail recreational park. On March 18, 2014, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued an order (the Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment, or NITU) which authorized the Railroad to negotiate with a trail operator for trail use. This federal order — the NITU — prevented the landowners from regaining their state law rights to the land. And, instead, the federal order allowed two new easements to be imposed on the property — one for recreational trail use and another for future railroad use at anytime in the future. The Railroad is currently negotiating with the DNR to reach a trail use agreement.
The Wisconsin landowners filed their claims for compensation last month. The landowners now have a limited period to join any other neighboring landowners who wish to vindicate their constitution rights to just compensation for the government’s taking of their property.
For more information about this case, please contact Lindsay Brinton.