John Rasmussen email@example.com Jul 2, 1999 14:08
Posted: In his 6-22-99 posting, Peter Goldman comments that the federal law preempts state law abandonment and stays reversion. This is "true", but it's a misleading statement. Most people reading that posting would assume that the land owners along the East Lake Sammamish Trail are therefore left without recourse or compensation for the establishment of the trail. This is not so.
If the adjacent land owner owns the reversionary rights to the land under the easement, he is due compensation for the taking of his land for the trail. This is allowed under both federal and Washington State law. (I'm sorry for the Gallers, who posted a very interesting message, but the lyrics of Woody Guthrie do not override any of these laws.)
Peter Goldman puts great emphasis on the adjacent properties that exclude the right-of-way land in their title description, and also the land grant properties. I suspect that these lots are the exception, and do not represent the most common situation along ELST.
Here are some thoughts about these properties.
I believe Peter is simply trying to discredit the opponents of the trail with his comment; "...the deeds of many of the most vocal opponents of the trail expressly state that their property does NOT include the portion of the land underlying the railway." Since the original deeds were granted in 1887, most of the properties along ELS have split and been sold a number of times. It's true that in some cases, the easement land was not conveyed because of a simple mistake or misunderstanding of the law. It's also possible a previous owner may have intentionally withheld the reversionary property on the sale of the adjoining lot. Neither the railroad nor King County would gain the reversionary rights in these cases. The present adjacent owners with these situations may have reversionary rights. They definitely have a complicated legal situation to resolve.
Peter Goldman implies with his statement that they have no rights to the easement land, and therefore no right to protest. That's wrong. Further, it seems he is trying to give the impression that this is the most common situation along the Lake. Perhaps he could explain what he means by the word "many" in the above quote. Peter, if you answer this, please give us a percentage of the properties that have this problem. My impression is that Peter is making that statement to turn the public against those of us with legitimate rights to compensation.
Further, Peter states in his posting: "...even if these folks (or their predecessors in title) did own the land under the right-of-way, easements over government land grant property do not revert to existing fee owners." If you answer this, Peter, what are you trying to imply here? Are you saying all the land along ELS is "land grant"? My understanding is that the U.S. Government ceased land grants to the railroads in 1871. The right-of-way across my property was granted in 1887, sixteen years later. I understand there are several railroad properties along Lake Sammamish from the land grant days, but the railroad, itself, was not established under land grant law. My impression is that this footage is the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps Peter would be specific about the amount of "land grant" land along ELS. He implies by his statement that it is ALL "land grant" land. I know that's wrong, because mine isn't. Again, this statement seems aimed at discrediting the legitimate claims of the landowners next to ELST, and focusing on an exception rather than the more common situation.
With respect to legitimate claims of the reversionary owners, there has been much misunderstanding of the effect of the "Rails-to-Trails Act. Trail proponents such as The Bicycle Alliance of Washington, The Land Conservancy, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and their allies have been very willing to promote this misunderstanding, because it furthers their cause. The more they can discourage the reversionary owners from attaining their rights, the more miles of bike trails will be developed in this country. If, later on, the reversionary owners get their compensation, the taxpayer will pay, not the trail promoters.
The "Rails-to-Trails Act", U.S.C. Title 16 Section 1247d, was designed to delay the state defined right to reversion. Under railbanking, when the railroad leaves, the right-of-way land does not revert back to the grantor or his successor in title, but instead, the right-of-way is retained for future rail use and present trail use. Given that situation, the radical trail proponents have promoted the myth that the reversionary owners are, therefore, without recourse because their reversion has been delayed. This is not the case. It has been found in both federal and Washington State courts that railbanking causes a "taking" of the reversionary property and therefore compensation is due. The reason is that an easement for railroad use is not legally the same as an easement for a trail. Railbanking effectively establishes a new easement for the trail, and, at the same time, defeats the reversionary rights of the original railroad easement. This causes a taking. Folks along ELST with reversionary rights should therefore be due compensation as if the railroad abandoned, the land was returned to them, and then the land were condemned for public trail use by King County. King County is liable for this compensation under Washington State law.
I've stated that the radical trail proponents have intentionally misrepresented the right to claims by the reversionary owners. A person can confirm that by reading The Bicycle Alliance of Washington "fact sheet" posted on this website on 4-26-99. Read the section titled "3. RAILBANKING IS NOT A "TAKING" OF PRIVATE PROPERTY". This paragraph is full of half-truths and misrepresentations, misdirection and lies. The overall impression given by that paragraph is that the reversionary owners are a small minority along ELST, and without rights to a taking claim. That is a very ugly, and intentional, lie. That whole document is a monument to dishonesty.
As to the question of what the ELST easement land is worth; Burlington Northern Santa Fe appraised the value of the land under the easements at about $41 million. Of that amount, BNSF actually owned only three or four lots worth about $1 million. These three or four lots were sold to The Land Conservancy, and then King County, with the railbanking transactions. In the spirit of the "robber baron" days, BNSF claimed that they owned all the easement land under the tracks, instead of just the three or four lots, and that they were donating that land to TLC/King County. TLC and King County acknowledged this phony "donation" in the papers of sale. Of course, BNSF couldn't donate this land because the land wasn't theirs to donate. It is reversionary land, and they only had a right-of-way across those lots. It's safe to assume they then took a $40 million write-off on their taxes for this phony "donation". This returned about $15 million in cash to the railroad, probably for BNSF executive bonuses, paid by the American taxpayer. Perhaps Peter Goldman would like to explain his part in this criminal action, because he was a lawyer for TLC at the time this transaction.
Using BNSF's value of the right-of-way land, and dividing by the length of the track, the average value is about $620 per foot of track. This means an average 100 foot wide lot, with 100 feet on track crossing, would be worth $62,000 in compensation from King County for the establishment of the East Lake Sammamish Trail. Of course, there is no actual average lot. The value would vary from about $11,000 to $340,000 for a lot with 100 feet of BNSF track. Since these numbers are based on 1996 property values, the claims will be higher today. Needless to say, King County is not knocking on people's doors and offering a check for this taking. Instead the County has decided to just ignore Washington State law, steal the land for the trail, and not pay compensation. If this seems wrong, it's more than wrong, it's criminal. I believe King County is taking the advice of the lawyers for TLC in this crime.
If King County dealt with this honestly, and advised its constituents of the potential $40 million liability for the taking of land under the East Lake Sammamish Trail, the taxpayers of the County would likely decide to not have a trail rather than tax themselves for the enormous true cost. Parks are very important to this community, and we can get a lot more park for our money with land purchases elsewhere, and still afford a nice bike path next to the road on ELS. It is important for the radical trail proponents to establish as much trail as possible before the public catches on that a gigantic bill looms in the future to settle the takings. This is why they are pushing so hard for an interim trial which does not fully address issues such as public safety and ecology.
If the County can get the trail established now, under dishonest conditions, the taxpayer will have no choice about being taxed for the legal compensation later. This will be another giant cost overrun for King County with the politicians claiming they couldn't foresee it coming. It's difficult to foresee things when one chooses to close his eyes to the truth.
Peter Goldman's posting on 6-22-99 gives the overall impression that the land owners along the lake are not due compensation. That's a lie. We don't need to change the law as Peter suggests, we need to elect politicians in King County that try to honestly obey the laws already in place. Peter, if you chose to respond to this posting, please explain what knowledge you had of the $15 million rip-off of the U.S. taxpayer by BNSF at the time of the ELS rail line sale to TLC.