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Court rules for landowner in trail dispute

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a Wyoming property owner in a dispute over a bicycle trail that follows the route of an abandoned railroad, a decision that could force the government to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate landowners.

The justices ruled 8-1 that property owner Marvin Brandt remains the owner of a 200-foot-wide trail that crosses his 83-acre parcel in southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest. The trail once was the path of a railroad and is among thousands of miles of abandoned railroads that have been converted to recreational trails.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the government was wrong to assert that it owns the trail.

The government said it faces compensation claims involving 10,000 properties in 30 states, possibly topping $100 million.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in dissent the court’s decision “undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation.”