Eminent Domain & Land Use


Lewis Rice Wins More Than $5 Million in Compensation for Henderson and Transylvania County Landowners

Lindsay S. C. Brinton and Meghan S. Largent, attorneys from Lewis Rice’s Federal Takings & Rails to Trails Practice Group, recently won $5,039,224 in compensation for 164 landowners in Henderson and Transylvania counties in North Carolina. These landowners brought takings claims against the federal government for the taking of their property for the 19.4-mile Ecusta Trail, a recreational hiking and biking trail between Hendersonville and Brevard that crossed or trespassed on the landowners’ property.

On June 28, 2021, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use, allowing for the conversion of the railroad corridor formerly owned by Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, a division of Watco Companies, into the Ecusta Trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act. The following day, Lindsay and Meghan filed what would become the first and largest case regarding the Ecusta Trail rail-trail conversion: Austin v. United States. It alleged the conversion of the railroad corridor for public trail use violated landowners’ property rights, namely, to regain full use and control of the land once it was abandoned for railroad purposes.

On May 31, 2024, the United States Court of Federal Claims awarded just compensation to the landowners, which also includes interest from the date of the taking of their property to the date of payment.

“Many of these landowners were disheartened by the taking of their property for trail use,” Lindsay said. “They shared concerns of trespassing, loss of privacy, loss of river access and impact on farming operations. One was disappointed with the lack of collaboration with the contractor involved with trail development after her stone wall, gravel driveway and Leyland cypress trees were all removed with little communication about the process. We are pleased that we have been able to obtain the just compensation from the federal government that these individuals are entitled to.”

Lewis Rice's federal takings attorneys represent landowners throughout the United States pursuing takings claims against the federal government. One primary focus of the group is representing landowners in what is commonly referred to as rails to trails takings. Attorneys in this group litigate cases in the United States Court of Federal Claims on behalf of those whose property was taken by the federal government pursuant to the National Trails System Act, which authorizes abandoned railroad lines to be converted to public parks. The goal is to obtain compensation from the government for the taking of their land for the public recreational trail. The attorneys in the Federal Takings Practice Group focus on both proving the taking has occurred as well as establishing the value of the property that was taken. Their national work for landowners includes representing landowners coast-to-coast, including 11 states. More information is available online.