Property Owners Contesting Condemnation of Land for Rail Spur

Dave Williams

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024

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A nonprofit public interest law firm vowed Tuesday to appeal a ruling by a Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing officer condemning several pieces of property in Hancock County being sought by Sandersville Railroad for a spur line.

The hearing officer declared Monday that the spur would serve a “legitimate public purpose” even though it would benefit a private business.

Sandersville Railroad filed a petition seeking authority to condemn land owned by Don and Sally Garrett in March of last year. By last July, they had been joined by other property owners after the company moved to condemn more land for the 4.5-mile Hanson spur, which would connect a private slate quarry to existing rail tracks.

“We’re not going to sit back and let Sandersville Railroad take land that has been in our family for generations, just so a rock quarry can ship rock faster, and so a few companies can increase their profits,” said Blaine Smith, one of the affected property owners. “We’re prepared to keep challenging this for as long as it takes.”

Lawyers for Sandersville Railroad argued the company has the statutory and constitutional authority to condemn the land for a public purpose. Construction of the spur would “open a new channel of trade for the underserved businesses of East-Middle Georgia,” according to the 19-page hearing officer’s ruling.

A group called the No Railroad in Our Community Coalition argued the petition for condemnation should be denied because the company failed to provide adequate notice of the legal basis on which it sought to take the property.

The Institute for Justice, representing the property owners, will file an application seeking to have the full PSC review Monday’s ruling.