Goliath, meet David.
Thanks to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) remarkable
legal team, led by general counsel Andrea Ferster and pro bono attorney Charles Montange, and our partners in Jersey City, the ambitious dream of a
public greenway through the heart of downtown Jersey City is still alive
following a crucial legal ruling announced last week.
Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit sustained an appeal filed by RTC, Jersey City and a local
community organization, which charged Conrail's sale of the historic Harsimus
Stem Embankment to a private developer with ignoring federal rail abandonment
For the past 36 years, this railbanking legislation has made
possible the conversion of hundreds of out-of-service rail corridors into public trails,
transportation and recreation facilities; it's a regulation that is at the very heart
of America's rail-trail movement.
Though the precise legalese of the matter is complex, the
basics of it are this: In selling the six-block site of the disused railroad embankment
to a developer, which intended to tear the historic structure down and
build apartments, Conrail ignored the provisions of railbanking legislation that dictates such facilities must first be offered to any local municipalities
or community groups interested in converting them for interim use as a rail-trail. It is a
piece of law designed to preserve the common wealth, and public usage, of these
The win is but one step in what has been, and may continue to be, a long and drawn-out series of legal challenges. This most
recent court decision held that RTC and partners merely have the right to
challenge the lawfulness of Conrail's sale.
However, reporter Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal wrote today that a settlement may be in the works that would
protect the embankment for conversion into a greenway, while also allowing some
development opportunities. Details of a potential settlement remain uncertain.
Since 1986, RTC's lawyers have argued the case for
preserving rail corridors as public recreation and transportation assets at the
local, national and federal levels in more than 50 cases, as well as before
Congress and administrative agencies. RTC is the foremost, and often the only,
legal advocate for rail-trails in the United States.
For background on the Harsimus Stem Embankment--the site,
the project, and the court cases--read our feature, "High Hopes for the Harsimus Embankment."
Photo of Harsimus Embankment by RTC.
Concept drawing courtesy of the Embankment Preservation Coalition.
Great job Andrea! [as always]
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