In their ongoing efforts to purchase about 60.8 acres containing a Colelbrookdale rail spur, the Berks County Commissioners have sought new appraisals of the line, rebuffing the current owner's asking price of $2,323,400.The county, instead, has offered $500,000 for purchase of the line, which the commissioners believe is closer to the property's true value. East Penn Lines Inc., owners of the rail spur, continue to assert it is worth far more.
In papers recently filed with Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C., commissioners Mark C. Scott, Christian Y. Leinbach and Kevin S. Barnhardt submitted an appraisal report in support of what they believe to be the actual net worth of the Colebrookdale spur. The commissioners are seeking to acquire the rail line for continued use by businesses within Berks County.
East Penn filed an immediate reply to the county's appraisal, addending a report from the company's own appraisal expert.
The county's appraisal, prepared by Matthew R. Cremers of Pottstown, details the value of the 12 parcels of land associated with the rail line which are located in Douglass-Berks and Douglass-Montgomery townships.
East Penn Lines, Inc. is seeking approval at the federal level to abandon the line. East Penn wants to sell the rail for scrap and put all acreage associated with the line up for sale.
The line is currently used most regularly by Drug Plastics & Glass Inc., of Boyertown.
In addition to the county's appraisal efforts, a recent detailed title search and legal assessment was undertaken with the assistance of Roland & Schlegel law firm, Reading. The letter detailing the assessment was given to the commissioners before their Dec. 30 meeting.
The Roland & Schlegel letter indicated that a search through previous case law had determined that all acreage previously deeded to any railroad for use by a rail line reverts back to the original owner if the railroad is abandoned. Scott asserted this new argument gives the county's position greater weight.
Scott said that it now appears that if East Penn chooses to abandon the rail line, the company's claims to acreage associated with the line are actually far less than original estimates since much of the land would ultimately revert back to the original owner or successors in title.
Scott estimates that under this new assumption, the land owned by East Penn is actually 12 percent of the company's original estimates.
According to Scott, discovery of this case law provides yet another reason to prevent abandonment of the line. He maintains the line should be sold to the county for its ongoing use.
"The problem for the people who will receive this land if the railroad is successfully abandoned is that they will become the owners of various nuisance structures," Scott said.
He added that this could pose for local municipalities numerous financial obligations as well as force homeowners to obtain homeowners insurance to protect themselves against possible liability.