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Judge Orders FBI to Pay Newton Residents for Cricket Frog Trail Land

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More than 40 Newton County landowners were able to share in $1.5 million after a federal judge ordered them to receive compensation for easements they lost after the U.S. government allowed an abandoned railroad to be converted into a recreational trail for multiple purposes.

Senior Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims recently ordered the federal government to pay 47 landowners in Covington after their property was approved for the construction of the Cricket Frog Trail, rather than return it to them after the Central of Georgia Railroad the line.

The August 31 Williams order requires the government to pay the owners of the 59 individual lots the value of the easement actually taken for the path, plus a severance payment, the amount that the owners’ remaining property has depreciated because of the deprivation.

The federal government has 60 days from when the verdict becomes final to appeal, said attorney Meghan Largent of the St. Louis, Missouri law firm that represented the homeowners.

The money will allow the landowners to make improvements such as privacy fences and landscaping to minimize the effect of a public walkway adjacent to their properties, Largent said.

I think the judge was right, she said. These owners can get paid and move on.”

One landowner, retiree Joseph Marino of Covington, said he would have preferred the easements returned to the owners.

“Every time you get money, it will help you,” he said.

Marino said he bought his house in 2001 and got used to the sounds of the formerly working railroad after moving in.

He said that the presence of the path was not a great burden to him. He built some stairs that allow him to access the trail, and he usually recognizes trail users who wave at him, Marino said.

However, he also said it would be “nice if no one walked behind his property” and said it was a potential backyard entry point for criminals.

The landowners sued the federal government in 2014 after it authorized the conversion of the abandoned Central of Georgia railroad easement to the Cricket Frog Trail, Largent said.

They claimed Georgia’s law required the land to return to the individual properties they were attached to before the easement was taken for the railroad’s construction in the 1890s. It did not authorize the 2010 abandoned railroad bed to be in a public place. recreational path, she said.

A separate lawsuit in 2017 resulted in a judge finding the federal government liable for taking property from the landowners, Largent said.

Williams then chaired a four-day trial and site visit in Atlanta in 2018 to determine the amount of compensation.

Largent said federal government attorneys argued they shouldn’t pay the landowners. They argued that building a public recreational trail, adjacent to or intersecting over landowners, made their land more valuable, she said.

But the injunction cited the plaintiffs’ example of Jennifer Thorpe’s property on Floyd Street. The easement for the path runs across her property, dividing it into two separate lots.

“The imposition of the rail-trail-corridor easement has significantly reduced the value of Jennifer Thorpe’s remaining property,” the ruling said.

The judge issued her injunction on Aug. 31, more than three years after the Atlanta hearing, Largent said.

Largent said her clients’ three years of waiting for a verdict after a hearing was an unusually long time.

That’s a very long turnaround, Largent said. It was difficult for our customers to wait that long. There were no guarantees that they would be compensated.

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