The Rails to Trails program has been a popular program nationwide. Many communities enjoy the conversion of unused rail road tracks into walking and biking trails. However, few people are aware that much of the land used for those trails was privately owned before the government decided to turn it into trails.

The government is able to do this through a simple purchase agreement or through the exercise of the power of eminent domain, which allows government to forcibly purchase privately owned land for a justified public use. Rails to Trails has exercised this ability in some situations in order to complete projects.

A recent settlement between private landowners and the Department of Justice reflects that although popular, this program is also controversial. The dispute arose when the government exercised the power of eminent domain back in 1999 but neglected to pay the landowner for the fair market value of the land.

Litigation continued for many years until the court finally awarded the landowner for the price of the property recently. The litigation went on for so long and involved so many attorneys that the landowners requested much more in compensation for attorney’s fees than they did for the actual cost of the land.

The case underscores the importance of having an experienced real estate lawyer to handle agreements for the sale of land. These transactions are often complex, especially in a situation where the government is involved. Having a dedicated advocate can help make sure that the landowner’s rights are being properly enforced.

Source: Legal Times, “DOJ Ordered to Pay $2.24M in Legal Fees in Property Dispute,” April 25, 2012

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