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U.S. v. 13.10 ACRES LAND IN PUTNAM

March 8, 1990

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
13.10 ACRES OF LAND SITUATED IN THE COUNTY OF PUTNAM, STATE OF NEW YORK; CHRISTINA MATTIN; TAX COLLECTOR, TOWN OF PUTNAM VALLEY; UNKNOWN HEIRS OF PHILIP PHILIPSE AND UNKNOWN OTHERS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Haight, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case is now before the Court on defendant Mattin's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R. Civ.P. 56.

Background

Factual Background

This is a condemnation action by the United States to acquire 13.1 acres of land, which are part of a 95.8 acre parcel in Putnam County owned by Christina Mattin. The Mattin property is a wooded piece of land with a stream running through it. The United States seeks to obtain the Mattin land for inclusion as part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail,*fn1 which it has moved from its original location to a new route which runs roughly parallel to the eastern border of Mattin's land. The new trail route does not cross Mattin's land. Rather, the United States seeks to annex the 13.1 acres for the purpose of creating a buffer zone between the actual trail and surrounding areas, which are subject to development to the extent they are privately owned.

The Appalachian trail was developed as a result of the combined efforts of various private hiking clubs, and state and federal agencies. In the late 1930's the trail's existence was more formally established through the signing of agreements by the Appalachian Trail Conference, a private, non-profit confederation of 31 trail clubs; each state through which the trail passed; the National Park Service ("Park Service") and the National Forest Service ("Forest Service").

Statutory Framework

The trail existed for several decades unregulated and unprotected until Congress passed the National Trails System Act ("Trails Act"), Pub.L. No. 90-543, 82 Stat. 919 (1968), codified as amended at 16 U.S.C. § 1241-1251. The Trails Act vests primary responsibility for administering and protecting the trail with the Secretary of the Interior (the "Secretary"). 16 U.S.C. § 1244(a)(1). The overall goal of the Trails Act is "to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population . . . in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation." 16 U.S.C. § 1241(a). The Trails Act provides for the creation of three basic types of trails: national recreation trails, national scenic trails, and national historic trails. 16 U.S.C. § 1242. The Appalachian Trail is designated as a National Scenic Trail. 16 U.S.C. § 1244(a)(1).

16 U.S.C. § 1244(a)(1) provides that "[i]nsofar as practicable, the right-of-way for [the Appalachian Trail] shall comprise the trail depicted on the maps identified as `Nationwide System of Trails, Proposed Appalachian Trail, NST-AT-101-May 1967', which shall be on file and available for public inspection in the office of the Director of the National Part, Service."*fn2 The trail right-of-way, or more simply the path of the trail, can be changed pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 1246(b).*fn3 Congress gave the Secretary the power to acquire lands "[w]here the lands included in a national scenic or national historic trail right-of-way are outside of the exterior boundaries of federally administered areas", 16 U.S.C. § 1246(e), by voluntary sales, id.; other agreements, 16 U.S.C. § 1246(f); or condemnation, 16 U.S.C. § 1246(g). In the 1968 law, Congress limited the Secretary to acquiring 25 acres of land in any one mile of trail. Id.

The House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs held hearings in 1976, the "Oversight Hearings", 94th Cong., 2d Sess. (1976), which led to the amendment of the Trails Act. See National Trails Act Amendments of 1978, Pub.L. 95-248, 92 Stat. 159. The 1978 amendments included an increase in the amount of land the Secretary was authorized to acquire to 125 acres per mile of trail. 16 U.S.C. § 1246(g). Moreover, Congress increased the budget for such acquisitions from $5,000,000 to $95,000,000. 16 U.S.C. § 1649(a)(1).

After the Oversight Hearings, the relevant committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate noted problems with the protection of the trail. The House Report said the following:

    At the time of the enactment of the National
  Trails System Act in 1968, Congress recognized
  the unique recreational opportunities afforded by
  extended trails of this type. It was also
  recognized that changing land uses and increase
  in pressures

  for development were a growing threat to
  maintaining a continuous trail route. The act
  therefore provided for a Federal responsibility
  to protect the trail, including the authority to
  acquire a permanent right-of-way.
    Since the passage of the original act, several
  steps have been taken to further protect the
  trail. The U.S. Forest Service has pursued a
  program of land acquisition to secure the trail
  route within the national forests. Several states
  have taken the initiative to acquire a corridor
  for the trail, frequently making use of matching
  grants from the land and water conservation fund.
    Unfortunately, these measures alone have not
  been enough to protect the trial. Over 600 miles
  of the trail remain in private hands and changes
  in ownership and increasing pressures for
  development pose threats to the continuity of the
  trail in numerous instances. Almost 200
  additional miles of the trail are now located
  along roads, providing no real hiking experience,
  but only a link between disconnected segments of
  the trail. Some of these miles of road
  designation are the result of the trail having
  been forced off of an area of land due to a
  change in use or ownership.
    The Department of the Interior has recognized
  this increasing threat to the trail, and is
  preparing a detailed acquisition plan to carry
  out the mandate of the 1968 act to protect the
  trail. Experience with the trail has
  demonstrated, however, that additional authority is
  needed to insure the acquisition of a corridor wide
  enough to protect trail values, and an increase in
  the funding authorized for the trail will be
  required to purchase a sufficient route through the
  areas which are now unprotected.

H.R.Rep. No. 734, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 3-4 (1977) (emphasis added) ("House Report"). The report of the Senate echoes these concerns. S.Rep. No. 636, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 3-4 (1978) ("Senate Report"), ...


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