Leading Rails to Trails law firm represents local landowners

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MUSKEGON—Stewart, Wald & McCulley, LLC, a leading Rails to Trails law firm is reaching out to landowners whose property rights may be affected by the conversion of a 2-mile stretch of railroad line in Muskegon into the Lakeshore Trail. The law firm has been retained by several landowners, and the firm expects to file a lawsuit on the landowners’ behalf once the conversion is approved by the federal government. Stewart, Wald & McCulley will be seeking monetary compensation for their clients for the taking of land in a case against the federal government.  The lawsuit is not against any local entities building the trail and will not stop or hinder trail progress.

The landowners own land near Lakeshore Drive from Rotary Park to the proposed Windward Point development site located along the dormant CSX Transportation, Inc. railway. The rail line was constructed in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s by Chicago and Michigan Lakeshore Railroad. The Muskegon City Commission has approved the purchase of the abandoned rail line to construct the Lakeshore Trail.

Prior to construction, the United States Surface Transportation Board (the federal agency that oversees the Rails to Trails program) must grant its approval to convert the railroad line into a trail.  On July 21, 2022, the City of Muskegon filed the trail conversion request with the Surface Transportation Board. The Surface Transportation Board must now approve the project under the National Trails System Act (“Trails Act”) and issue a Notice of Interim Trail Use.

The Trails Act permits the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors into nature and hiking trails, which simultaneously preserves the rights of way for future use. The practice is known as railbanking and prevents the land within the abandoned railroad from reverting to the adjoining landowners. It grants the trail sponsor a new easement, thereby blocking the rights of the landowner to reclaim the property within the corridor.

Stewart, Wald & McCulley, LLC is seeking compensation on behalf of the landowners whose property rights will be affected by this rail-trail conversion. Attorney Michael J. Smith notes any lawsuit filed on behalf of a landowner is solely against the federal government and does not affect the trail project. “We are not seeking and do not expect to seek recovery against any entity other than the federal government. We believe there are over 70 parcels of land that will be impacted by the rail trail conversion.”

A representative from Stewart, Wald & McCulley will be returning to the area in late August to conduct landowner meetings. Interested landowners should reach out to the law firm at www.swm.legal for details on meeting times.

Stewart, Wald & McCulley is a law firm with locations in Saint Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. Their national practice focuses solely on representing landowners in rail-trail conversions across the nation.

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