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E-M:/ Rails to Trails decision



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Thanks to Dawson Bell for sending me the decision by the MI Court of Appeals
in the Township of Bingham v. RLTD  Railroad Corp & Leelanau Trails Assoc.
Inc.  It is an interesting decision and others may appreciate the court's
perspective.  At issue was whether a local unit of government, in this case
Bingham Twp., can force a rail-trail to submit to local zoning and
planning permitting processes, in particular seeking conformity with local
planning and zoning and requiring permits to proceed.  I would note that this
is an issue that enviros at different levels of government or from different
perspectives may well view in opposite ways. 

The MI Appeals Court has ruled against the township and in favor of the
railroad and rail-trail. They found that the state has expressed a compelling
public interest in keeping such corridors under state jurisdiction as a
transportation corridor whose importance transcends the interest of a local
unit of government in imposing its local regulations on that corridor.  They
found that there is an interest in not having individual jurisdictions impose
a multitude of different regulations on these corridors, much as there is the
same interest in allowing highways to be above local zoning.  The court cites
both the Michigan Trailways Act and the appropriation of funds to carry out
its purposes as an indication of this overriding interest.  

One question I don't see addressed is whether such would apply to trails that
are not rail-trails.  It is a little difficult to see how much this analysis
depends on the fact that these are railroad beds that could be returned to
that use in the future.  In fact, some overriding federal interests in
maintaining such railway beds was addressed in the Circuit Court decision, but
because of a change of a federal agency's position on this particular trail
that analysis was not pursued at the Appellate Court level.

This is my analysis, and open to debate, particularly from those more
familiar with the case!

Anne Woiwode



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