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Legal Challenges

Legal Challenges

  • Trail Opponents’ Petition Denied. In 2005, the Klickitat Trail was hit with a serious legal challenge. Six trail opponents petitioned the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), asking that the rail-banked status of the Klickitat Trail be revoked, thereby completely closing the trail. Fortunately, it was determined that trail opponents were relying on incorrect information, most notably an inaccurate county assessor’s map. Research revealed that there is no disconnection of the trail from the main BNSF line running through Lyle. BNSF also submitted a thorough response to the Petition, with exactly the same conclusion. To be doubly protected, and to provide insurance for the future, KTC purchased an easement across a property in Lyle that provides a further connection between the trail and the main line. The STB denied the petition quickly, clearly and emphatically. To quote their response document, “…the petitioners have failed to provide reliable evidence to support their claims of severance or an intent by either party to terminate interim trail us and abandon the line. To the contrary, both BNSF and the Trail Owners have provided evidence that BNSF specifically retains a connection between the trail and its main line so as to allow for the potential reactivation of active rail service on this rail banked right-of-way, and that KTC has obtained an easement connecting the trail to the national rail system, which encompass right for rail reactivation in the event active rail service on the line is restored. Thus, we cannot find on the record before us that this trail has been severed from the interstate rail network.”
  • A 2014 Supreme Court decision in the state of Wyoming prompted the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners to send a letter to Washington State Parks Commission requesting closure of the Klickitat Trail on the ground that “the Supreme Court’s recent Brandt decision confirmed concerns long raised by property owners with regard to the Klickitat Trail.”

    After thorough legal analysis by the Washington State Attorney General, State Parks issued a press release stating the ‘Brandt decision’ has no effect on State Parks long-distance trails. In part, the press release reads:

    “A recent Supreme Court decision has raised questions in many states about underlying property rights on long-distance trails managed for public recreation. On March 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al v. United States. Brandt challenged whether the federal government would retain an interest in a railroad right-of-way issued under the Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 on property lying along the Medicine Bow Trail in Wyoming, a former rail corridor inside Medicine Bow National Forest. The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Brandt. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission manages five long-distance public recreation trails totaling nearly 500 linear miles. The Brandt decision has no effect on State Parks’ public trail program because the narrow set of circumstances in the court decision do not apply to any of the agency’s properties. Some State Parks-managed trails include railroad rights-of-way issued under the 1875 Act. However, three State Parks trails – the Columbia Plateau, Klickitat and Willapa Hills trails – were acquired under separate federal rail-bank law. The Brandt decision did not involve a trail that was rail-banked. A prior U.S. Supreme Court case (Preseault v. Interstate Commerce Commission) determined that railbanking of trails is a legitimate use of Congressional power, regardless of the type of right-of-way originally involved. This confirms State Parks’ ownership of these trails.

  • Read the entire press release here 2014 WSPRC Facts – Brandt