The U.S. government must pay $410,000 to 13 landowners whose property was used to build a 225-mile hiking and biking trail in Missouri, a federal court has ruled.
Total awards could reach $10 million by the time the court determines compensation for 285 more landowners with property along the Katy Trail, said Gary Heldt, a spokesman for the landowners.
The U.S. Court of Claims in St. Louis granted the 13 awards Nov. 21. The Missouri Farm Bureau, which sided with the landowners, announced the ruling Wednesday.
The state operates and maintains the Katy Trail, which was developed along the abandoned Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad corridor. The federal government is responsible for paying the awards because the trail was built under guidelines of the national Rails-to-Trails Act, Heldt said.
The act allows abandoned railroad property to be turned over to state or local government for use as trails.
An earlier Court of Claims ruling found that landowners were entitled to compensation, because under Missouri law, abandoned railroad easements revert to landowners.
"The government violated our property rights, and we landowners fought this issue on principle, on the fact that our land can't simply be taken without something in return to the landowner," said Heldt, of Montgomery City.
The court did not question the validity of the Rails-to-Trails Act, addressing only the issue of compensation for landowners in Missouri, Heldt said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department said no one was available Wednesday to say whether the ruling would be appealed. A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the decision would have no effect on the trail.
The trail runs from St. Charles in eastern Missouri along the Missouri River to Clinton in the western part of the state.