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United States v. Chicago

April 12, 1937


Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Wisconsin; Patrick T. Stone, Judge.

Author: Sparks

Before SPARKS, Circuit Judge, and BRIGGLE and BALTZELL, District Judges.

SPARKS, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court assessing damages in condemnation proceedings instituted by the Government with respect to the navigation project of the Mississippi River, authorized by an Act of Congress approved January 21, 1927, 44 Stat. 1010. Two actions at law are involved, and numerous questions are presented, which render necessary a rather full statement of the issues of both causes and the manner in which they were disposed of.

On September 19, 1931, the Government filed its action No. 3683, to condemn 2.9 acres of land in the city of Alma, Wisconsin. It was alleged that that land was a part of the site of Lock and Dam No. 4 as contemplated by the project, which was about to be begun. The action was brought against appellee and numerous other corporate bodies and natural persons, who, it was alleged, constituted, as nearly as the Government could ascertain, all persons claiming to be the owners or occupants of those lands, or claiming any right, title, equity or interest therein.

On August 9, 1932, the Government amended its original petition by reducing the amount of land sought to be condemned to 1.6 acres, and retained as defendants the appellee and several hundred others who, as alleged, were claiming some interest therein. The amended bill further stated that the proposed dam should have a crest elevation of 667 feet mean sea level, intended to provide a pool no higher than 667 feet, mean sea level at the dam.

On August 17, 1932, the court, over the Government's objections and exceptions, sustained appellee's motion to make the amended petition more specific, and ordered the same done by filing plans of the lock and dam to be built, or sufficient information as to the structural and engineering features thereof, to enable appellee to determine and make proof of the damage to the remainder of its property resulting from the construction, operation and maintenance of the lock and dam.

On December 3, 1932, the Government complied with this order by amending its amended petition, in which it was stated, among other matters, that the dam would be of a nonnavigable type with a controlled spillway section 1,355 feet long, having a crest elevation of 667 feet mean sea level datum; that the top of the lock and guide walls would be at elevation 672 feet mean sea level, and that the spillway would be so controlled as to maintain a pool elevation at 667 feet. The official map filed with the amendment disclosed the elevation of the pool along the upper side of the dam to be 667.

Following the hearing on the amended petition, an order was entered January 14, 1933, granting the condemnation of the property described in the amended petition, and appointing commissioners to fix the compensation for its taking. On January 25, 1933, the Government applied for immediate possession of the condemned 1.6 acres, alleging the value thereof to be not in excess of $500. On the same day the court granted the application conditioned on the deposit of $110,000 with the court, as security for the payment of such just compensation as might be finally awarded. This order was complied with without objection or exception on the part of the Government. On January 31, 1933, on the motion of appellee, and over objections and exceptions by the Government, the court amended its order granting condemnation and appointing commissioners by adding to that portion of the order directing the commissioners to ascertain, award and report the compensation for the property taken as described in the amended complaint, the following words, "together with all damages to the remainder of respondent's property resulting from the construction and operation of the lock and dam described in the petition herein."

Pursuant thereto, the commissioners made, and on June 7, 1933, filed, their award for the value and damages to be sustained by reason of the appropriation. They were made in varying amounts to eleven named respondents in the aggregate sum of $4,627, and to appellee for the taking of its interest in the 1.6 acres of land in the sum of $160, together with damages to its roadbed, track and bridge across Beef River from Alma to Trevino, in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, in the sum of $84,296. From all of these awards the Government appealed on June 29, 1933, to the District Court.

On October 16, 1933, the Government filed its petition in law, No. 3767, against appellee and other defendants, to condemn certain lands in fee (none of which was owned by appellee), and certain easements in lands to an elevation of 670 feet above mean sea level datum (1912 adjustment) for flowage in connection with Lock and Dam No. 4. Included in this easement sought to be appropriated was a flowage easement upon that portion of appellee's right of way within the area described in the petition which extends northwesterly, across what is known as Beef Slough, to a point about six miles above the 1.6 acre tract condemned in cause No. 3683. The petition in No. 3767 contained the following allegation:

"That your petitioner by naming herein any person or persons as owners or otherwise interested does not admit or intend to admit that any person or persons so named have any right, title, estate, or interest in or to the bed of the Mississippi river below ordinary high water mark, or the meander line, as against your petitioner in the improvement of navigation of said river."

On December 11, 1933, the District Court granted the condemnation, and on motion of the Government it made an order on January 23, 1934, reducing the easements condemned to an elevation of 667 feet above mean sea level datum (1912 adjustment). This included the easement of appellee's right of way. The commissioners filed their award on May 28, 1934, for the flowage easement condemned on appellee's right of way in the sum of $81,194. From this award the Government appealed to the District Court.

The claims of appellee before the commissioners in causes numbered 3683 and 3767 embraced approximately the same portion of its right of way. All the flowage rights on appellee's property sought by the Government in the second suit had been included in the original suit. For the purpose of trial they were consolidated in the District Court. The cases were tried to a jury which, at appellant's request, returned a special verdict by way of answers to interrogatories*fn1 finding for appellee in the aggregate amount of $347,811.65, that is to say, $400 by way of compensation for appellee's interest in the 1.6 acres, and $347,411.65 for damages proximately caused by the continuous maintenance and operation of the Alma dam at a pool level no higher than 667 feet above mean sea level at the dam.

At and above the Alma dam for a distance of ten or twelve miles, the Mississippi valley consists of a flat alluvial flood plain about three miles wide, extending northwesterly from the dam between high rock bluffs. Larger floods cover the entire valley floor, except for occasional ridges and knolls which extend above the extreme high water. The main channel of the river in this area is the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

From a point about twelve miles upstream from the dam, the Mississippi valley floor lies at a much lower level and is covered with water ranging from a few feet to forty feet in depth, constituting a segment of the river, known as Lake Pepin, approximately twenty miles in length, and from two to three miles wide in places.

The two longest tributaries of the Mississippi in this region are the Beef and Chippewa rivers, which enter from the Wisconsin side. The Beef River drains about 440 square miles and enters the Mississippi, through Beef Slough, about a mile and a half above the dam. The Chippewa drains an area of 9480 square miles and enters the Mississippi about 10.7 miles above the dam. Both tributaries have valleys similar to the Mississippi but vary in width in proportion to the size of the stream. The valley of Beef River is about three-fourths of a mile wide near its mouth and becomes narrower towards its source. The Chippewa is about four miles wide at its mouth, and narrows down to about a fourth of a mile at a point fifteen miles from its mouth. The floors of these tributary valleys are also subject to inundation when they are in flood. A small tributary, known as Rush River, draining an area of about 200 square miles, enters Lake Pepin from the Wisconsin side twenty-eight miles above the dam. It is about eighty feet wide at its mouth.

Appellee's railroad in the vicinity of Alma extends along the easterly bank of the Mississippi. Originally a portion of its tracks in front of Alma, and at the site of the lock and dam, was constructed on trestles, which was subsequently filled in with sand, gravel, earth, or other suitable substance, under claimed authority of an ordinance of the village of Alma, dated February 3, 1902. Upstream from the dam the railroad was constructed along bluffs for a distance of one and one-half miles, from which point, prior to 1928, it followed a winding course for several miles along the easterly bank of Beef Slough, continuing northwesterly and inland through the village of Nelson, Wisconsin, across the Chippewa River bottoms, over the main channel of the Chippewa at a point about one and one-half miles from the Mississippi, and then along the easterly shore of Lake Pepin. The railroad crosses Rush River at a point about one and one-half miles from the Mississippi. Rush River is located seventeen miles northwesterly from the Chippewa and twenty-eight miles from the Alma dam. Prior to 1928 the railroad crossed Beef River just above the point where it entered the channel of Beef Slough, which is about one and one-half miles upstream from the dam.

In 1927 appellee obtained a permit from the Secretary of War, revocable at the will of the latter, authorizing it to dredge Beef Slough at points near Alma to a depth not exceeding thirty feet nor within one hundred feet of any wing dam or main bank, and to use the dredged material for railroad embankment in accordance with plans shown on the drawings attached thereto, subject, however, to the conditions set forth in the permit forbidding impairment of navigable capacity, providing for the protection or removal of structures when future operations of the Government might require, without cost to the Government, and prohibiting unreasonable interference with navigation. The maps attached to the permit disclosed the work sought to be done and the manner in which it was to be accomplished. Pursuant to that permit appellee constructed an embankment across the abandoned channel of Beef Slough, diking or damming it in two places. It constructed a bridge, however, in the center of this embankment over a diversion ditch, through which the waters of Beef River were diverted at right angles to Beef Slough, and permitted to run into the Mississippi. In the state of nature, the ...

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