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Landowners Seeking Compensation For Land Along Milwaukee Trail
Updated December 29, 2014 8:11 AM
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(UNDATED) - More than 75 landowners are seeking compensation from the federal government for land that's being turned into a 19-mile long trail from Bedford to Crane.

The Indiana Trails Fund is building a trail from Bedford to Crane along what used to be a railroad corridor. The Milwaukee Road Transportation Trail Way goes through 175 landowners' private property, so the federal government has taken that land through eminent domain.

Thor Hearne, a partner with the Washington-D.C. law firm Arent Fox, is representing some of those landowners who are now suing to receive payment for that land. Hearne says the last day to be a part of the suit was Monday.

Hearne stresses that public trails that are well constructed and maintained and managed by a public entity like the Department of Natural Resources are great and the landowners support them, but when they take a person's property to use for the benefit of a community without compensation that's a violation of their constitutional rights.

In March 2010, following the abandonment of the railway, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use, which preserved the right of way for future railroad purposes, if needed, and also granted interim use of the land as a public-access trail.

At one time, Indiana law stipulated the property easements granted to railroads were limited, meaning, if they abandoned the trail, the property would revert back to the landowners.

However, in 1983, following years of rail lines being abandoned, a federal Trails Act was passed. Under the law, abandoned rail lines would be given to trail groups, and those old state laws regarding easements would no longer apply. However the landowners don't agree.

Representatives from the Indiana Trails Fund say the lawsuit should not slow down the construction of the trail, though, because construction will be allowed to move forward before the lawsuit is settled, which is expected to take about two years.

Richard Vonnegut, President of the Indiana Trails Fund, says, the Milwaukee Road Transportation Trail Way is a health and community benefit.

Hiram Sanders of Loogootee is one of those individuals who does not like the idea of the trail crossing his land.

Sanders, who owns 76 acres north of Indian Springs, has joined a class action suit seeking compensation from the federal government.

The first 5.5 miles of trail, from the U Street trail head at L Street to Coxton Road in Bedford, was officially opened in October. It will still be a few years before the rest is complete.

The rail trail is facing another lawsuit in which landowners are asking the Indiana Trails Fund to build fencing along the edges of the trail. Vonnegut says his group is currently weighing the costs of doing that.

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