If you are a land owner this is great news. sometimes the bully looses. Hoorah!! Read the following and I’m for trails but the land owner comes first. this from the Casper Star Tribune.
Editorial board: We’re glad Uncle Sam derailed on right-of-way
2 hours ago • By Star-Tribune editorial board
In Wyoming alone, the federal government owns more than 30 million acres of land. So naturally the U.S. Forest Service saw nothing problematic about appropriating the abandoned railroad tracks on Marvin Brandt’s 83 acres for transformation into a public recreational trail.
Brandt, however, had something to say about that. As it turned out, the U.S. Supreme Court recently did, too. On March 10, Chief Justice John Roberts joined seven of his colleagues in handing Brandt a resounding victory that also carries potentially astronomical impacts throughout the West.
And to think, the federal juggernaut was stopped by the stubbornness of a single property owner in Fox Park, population 22. We salute Brandt for his gumption and side with the high court’s ruling.
The feds now could be socked with claims for payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars because of their failed pursuit of a sliver of land in Wyoming.
Making this story even more remarkable is the fact that Brandt’s family had actually enjoyed an amicable relationship with the Forest Service for more than half a century. At the agency’s request, Brandt’s father, Melvin, built a sawmill on the site to produce railroad ties.
Melvin Brandt bought the sawmill in 1946 and acquired additional acreage in the Medicine Bow National Forest. Three decades later, the Brandt family and the Forest Service swapped land, giving the family the 83 acres involved in the current case. As a condition of the exchange, a 28-mile stretch covered by train tracks was ceded to the government so long as it was used for railroad operations.
The turning point came in 2004, when the Wyoming and Colorado Railroad ripped out the tracks and abandoned the line. The nationwide rails-to-trails movement was running at full steam by that time, and at the urging of Cycle Wyoming, the Forest Service set about converting the pathway into a publicly accessible trail.
To do so, the agency asked a federal court to declare it the owner of the right of way. That brought the threat of legal action against the owners of 32 parcels along the trail route. One by one, the landowners settled with the federal government, leaving only Brandt to keep fighting.
The Forest Service won the opening round in court as well as a subsequent appeal. But the government knew that thousands of miles of former railroad rights of way, particularly in Western states, had been converted into trails. It wanted to solidify its legal standing to fend off similar challenges from property owners, and thus it requested Supreme Court review of the case.
That strategy backfired in a big way. In his majority opinion, Roberts cited a 1942 case, which the government won, as the applicable standard. But that formerly winning argument now worked in Brandt’s favor. Furthermore, “Congress did an about-face” on railroad-related property rights in 1988, Roberts wrote.
The government was not alone in regretting the outcome, though. A statement on the website of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy bemoans a “disappointing decision for trails.”
We empathize with that position. After all, we here in Wyoming love the outdoors and all the splendid ways for us to enjoy it, trails included. It’s truly a shame that this victory for property rights comes at the expense of a genuine public benefit.
That said, the federal government chose to display an overbearing sense of entitlement in its dealings with Marvin Brandt. Sometimes a figurative freight train is needed to remind officialdom of the centrality of property rights in a democratic society. This was one of those times.