DM&E drops condemnation against Wyoming landowners

Written by jrood

The Dakota Minnesota & Eastern dropped its condemnation lawsuit against several Wyoming landowners in northeast Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. 

In addition, the DM&E said current regulatory and economic conditions for its proposed rail expansion into the Powder River Basin coal-mining district are not good.

According to DM&E’s
dismissal notice filed in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, "There are
uncertainties regarding the time when DM&E will be able to meet the
necessary thresholds for the project, and it is clear that the project will not
proceed in the immediate term."

The $1-billion-plus
project is not dead, however, DM&E spokesman Mike Lovecchio told the

"The decision to proceed with the expansion will be
contingent on several conditions: access to a right-of-way land corridor, mine
and utility contracts and economic and regulatory environment that would
support a long-term investment of this magnitude."

For nearly 15 years,
DM&E has pushed a proposal to extend its railroad 278 miles to access
surface coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which is currently served
by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. Those two railroads, combined, have an
annual coal-carrying capacity in the region in excess of 450 million tons.

In 2007, DM&E sought
condemnation of some 19 landowners in Converse, Weston, Campbell and Niobrara
counties for rights-of-way to some 1,200 linear acres.

 The lawsuit was filed
June 28, 2007, just days before changes to Wyoming’s eminent domain laws went
into effect on July 1 of that year. Those changes included more advanced notice
of intent to develop and gave property owners the right to use "comparable
sales" to figure fair market value for their land.

 DM&E said those
new laws threatened its then-existing construction schedule and financing

"With delays now
occasioned by external circumstances, there is no need to engage in further
litigation over that objection," DM&E attorneys stated in the filing.

Lovecchio said DM&E would
now negotiate with those same landowners it had sought to condemn in U.S.
District Court for the past two years. 

Randall T. Cox, attorney for several
landowners involved in the lawsuit, said the dismissal was a victory for those
who fought to protect their land.

"I believe the
DM&E spent more on litigation than it offered for right-of-way in
Wyoming," Cox told the Star-Tribune. "DM&E would never consider
increasing its offers of money. This was the most spectacularly unsuccessful
right-of-way negotiating strategy that I have ever witnessed."

Cox noted that several
landowners had opposed DM&E’s loan application to the Surface
Transportation Board, which was denied. After which, DM&E brought the
condemnation suit against the landowners.

"This is an abuse of
discretion," Cox said. "I appreciate that current management under
the Canadian Pacific is more realistic."

Canadian Pacific acquired
DM&E after the condemnation filing in 2007 and had said the project would
continue as long as it met certain thresholds, including a favorable regulatory
climate, available financing and acquisition of land rights.

"I want to stress,
as of today, no decision has been made by Canadian Pacific whether to proceed
with the Powder River Basin project," Lovecchio said.