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First claim for compensation is filed in Ecusta Trail railbanking

The conversion of the Hendersonville-to-Brevard rail corridor to the Ecusta Trail edged close to a certainty when a federal agency issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment on Monday.

The order allows Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, the owner of the line, to complete the sale of the property to Conserving Carolina. The land conservancy has agreed to purchase the greenway, using money from the state NCDOT grant,  while Henderson County and the city of Brevard have agreed to lead the construction phase.
“At the same time, this order constitutes for many folks a taking of their reversionary rights and under the Fifth Amendment they are allowed to file a claim for compensation,” said Lindsay S. Brinton, an attorney with Lewis Rice, one of several law firms that representing landowners who are expected to file claims for the land taken for the bicycle-pedestrian trail.
The day after the Surface Transportation Board’s action, Austin v. United States became the first claim of what’s expected to be several hundred lawsuits seeking compensation. The case, brought by Denise and Donald Austin of Penrose with land along the railroad track, was filed by Brinton’s firm.
“But for the STB invoking section 8(d) of the Trails Act, these North Carolina landowners would have held and enjoyed unencumbered title and these owners would have had exclusive right to possess their property free of any easement for recreational trail use or railbanking,” the lawsuit said.
Brinton said her firm expects to add around 125 more claimants in an amended complaint they plan to file on July 16.
“It’s important that we filed it so we can start the process,” she said. She said the total amount of money the property owners are seeking won’t be known until appraisals are completed in about a year from now.
“It’s a variety,” she said of the firm’s clients. “Some are small residential, some are commercial. We have a lot of agricultural property. We have claims all along the corridor. … We have some that are pro-trail and some that are anti-trail so we really represent both sides the aisle.” What they have in common, she said, is “their land was taken and they want to see compensation.”
She said most claims for compensation in railbanking situation are resolved in about two years.
Also this week, an attorney for Blue Ridge Southern Railroad notified the Surface Transportation Board that it had reached a trails-use agreement with Ecusta Rails2Trails LLC, a non-profit formed by Conserving Carolina.