Cobb landowners win $700,000 from feds in Silver Comet connector lawsuit

Chart Riggall, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 16—Three Cobb landowners have been awarded over $700,000 as compensation for a railroad right-of-way set to become part of the Silver Comet Trail's connection with the Atlanta Beltline.

Christine and Michael Howarth, Ferrero Hodges Investment Group, and Lisenby Real Estate Investments are each owners of a series of parcels which border the former CSX rail line between the East-West Connector and Plant Atkinson Road. The plaintiffs claimed they were entitled to payment for portions of the right-of-way abutting their property taken by the government for the Silver Comet Trail connection.

The three plaintiffs reached a settlement with the federal government on March 8, according to the plaintiffs' attorney, Meghan Largent of the firm Lewis Rice.

The lots owned by the Howarths and Ferrero Hodges lie on Atlanta Road near its intersection with Plant Atkinson Road. The lot owned by Lisenby Real Estate Investments is on South Cobb Industrial Boulevard.

All four lots border a portion of the right-of-way which is to become a connection between the Silver Comet Trail and the Atlanta Beltline. The connection will terminate on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, where it will need to be joined with the Beltline. Currently, the west side Beltline runs only as far as Washington Park, west of downtown Atlanta.

Largent said the lawsuit stemmed from a provision in federal law dealing with the transfer of railways from private to public hands for trail use. In 2018, CSX filed a request to abandon the right of way, and based on the conditions of the easement, the land would have ended up in the hands of the private landowners.

But the federal Surface Transportation Board issued a notice both allowing the property to be converted to recreational use, and ordering the railroad grade to not be removed.

"The federal government's interest is primarily keeping railroad infrastructure intact," Largent said. "There'd be no reason for the federal government to have jurisdiction over a public park in the state, but because it's still considered railroad commerce, they can keep their jurisdiction over that land."

So while Georgia's Department of Transportation owns the property, because the federal government was responsible for keeping the right-of-way out of private hands, it—not the state—was found liable.

Both State Reps. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, and Sheila Jones, D-Atlanta, the latter of whom represents the area, said inquiries from the MDJ were the first they had heard of the settlement. A spokesperson for CSX likewise said they had no knowledge of the suit.

While the details of the settlement are confidential, Largent said the total amount paid out is in excess of $700,000. Lewis Rice has filed another suit on behalf of five more plaintiffs with property on Atlanta Road, North Church Lane, South Cobb Industrial Boulevard, and Plant Atkinson Road.

Largent added the aim of the suits is not to stop the Silver Comet connection.

"Our lawsuit, most importantly, never was intended nor aimed at harming or stopping the conversion to a trail," she said. "It's simply a lawsuit, recognizing that these owners are entitled to the fair market value of the acreage underneath the railroad right-of-way that they would have gotten back."

A visit to the portions of the former railway revealed that CSX has already removed much, if not all, of the tracks. Left behind was only the sloped gravel forming the grade, awaiting the coming pavement.