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Georgia Public Service Commission says railroad can condemn land for spur

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(The Center Square) — A Georgia Public Service Commission hearing officer has ruled a railroad can take private land from several Sparta property owners, saying its proposed rail spur “serves a legitimate public purpose.”

The Sandersville Railroad, a Class III short line railroad that has served the area since 1893, petitioned the PSC on March 8, 2023, to condemn land for a proposed 4.5-mile-long spur. The railroad subsequently moved to condemn additional land.

The railroad’s existing rail lines are about 25 miles from Sparta, and the company does not operate in the city. The spur — named the “Hanson Spur” — would connect a Heidelberg Materials-owned rock quarry on Shoal Road southeast of Sparta with a CSX Transportation rail line but not existing Sandersville Railroad tracks.

In an initial decision handed down this week, PSC Hearing Officer Thomas K. Bond said “that the proposed condemnation by Sandersville Railroad serves a legitimate public purpose and is necessary for the proper accommodation of the business of the company.”

“We’re not going to sit back and let Sandersville Railroad take land that has been in our family for generations, just so a rock quarry can ship rock faster, and so a few companies can increase their profits,” property owner Blaine Smith said in a news release from the Institute for Justice, which represents local property owners opposing the railroad’s spur.

“We’re prepared to keep challenging this for as long as it takes,” Smith added. “This property is more than just land to us – it is our heritage.”

The Institute for Justice said it would file an appeal, asking the entire PSC to review the ruling. Sandersville Railroad did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling or the ongoing opposition.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court issued the unpopular and widely condemned Kelo decision [in 2005], the Georgia General Assembly passed strict reforms to ensure that nothing like that would happen in this state. [This] initial decision essentially undoes that work,” IJ Senior Attorney Bill Maurer said in a news release. “This is a private company taking property from people for its own profit and the profits of a handful of private companies, none of which serve the public. We will fight to ensure that the people of the state of Georgia are protected from this kind of abuse at every stage we can.”