COVINGTON — Forty-seven landowners — including the city of Covington and Newton County — will share in a $1.5 million settlement with the federal government over land taken for the Cricket Frog Trail.
The landowners sued the government in 2014 after it authorized the conversion of 14.9 miles of the old Central of Georgia Railroad easement right of way between Newborn and Covington into a recreational trail. Central of Georgia Railroad is a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Newton County and Covington joined the lawsuit in 2015. The landowners were represented by attorneys from Lewis Rice’s Federal Takings & Rails to Trail Practice.
The Fifth Amendment requires that the federal government pay just compensation when it takes private property for public use. Under the settlement agreement, Newton County will receive $122,841 for damages to four parcels and Covington will receive $195,030 for damages to five properties. Individual property owners’ damages range from $2,025 to $147,783.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the land lying underneath the railroad easement belonged to them and that the conversion of the railroad into a public trail was not allowed under Georgia law. The plaintiffs asserted they had suffered damages including loss of privacy and accessibility and increased security concerns.
Fifty-nine parcels of land were included in the trail conversion. The properties include urban, rural, commercial, residential, agricultural, improved, and unimproved parcels.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims found in favor of the landowners in 2017. In August, Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams held a four-day trial in Atlanta and site visit to determine the value of the plaintiffs’ claims. She found that the landowners had proven that the trail over their property diminished the property value and ordered the $1.5 million in compensation, including interest.
Damages were calculated based on the value of the land actually taken and the reduction in value of the owners’ remaining property. In some cases, the trail separated landowners’ property from access to county roads.