Court test looms on old rail line
MANCHESTER - A court case is brewing over the ownership of a railbed property located between North Road and the gravel pit.
Bill Drunsic, co-owner of Old Railroad Bed LLC, purchased the property about a year and a half ago, but neighbors have challenged the company's ownership of the property.
"They're claiming I'm a trespasser because they think they own the property," said Drunsic. "However, I have a warranty deed that says I own the property and they are using the property without permission from me and the prior owner."
Defendants Ron and Kristi Marcus as well as intervenors Vernon West and Cathy Cushing, Bradford West, and Don and Eleanor Dykes have all claimed that the Old Railroad Bed Property crosses their property lines and that the former right-of-way created by the Manchester, Dorset, and Granville Railroad Co. is ineffective, according to a counterclaim for declaratory and injunctive relief filed in Bennington Superior Court, civil division, last October.
The Manchester, Dorset, and Granville Railroad Co. was formed in 1902. In the process of constructing the line, MD&G obtained four warranty deeds for the so-called Old Railroad Bed property. MD&G railroad shut down on June 1, 1918, but was revived again briefly in 1924 before being shut down again the following year. The tracks were torn up in 1934 and MD&G dissolved its charter on Feb. 28, 1936.
MD&G conveyed its assets to Vermont Marble Company on Feb. 26, 1936 just before it dissolved. On Sept. 28, 1992, Vermont Marble Company merged with OMYA Inc. Subsequently, OMYA Inc. conveyed the property by quitclaim deed to Old Railroad Bed, LLC on Nov. 19, 2009.
Based on the counterclaim, the defendants and intervenors are claiming that the MD&G right-of-way referenced in the quitclaim deed was ineffective no later than 1936 and that the land that was formerly subject to the right-of-way became unencumbered. The defendants and intervenors are declaring that they own their respective property free and clear and are free of the impediments created by MD&G's location survey - which was recorded in 1903 in Manchester's land records - or warranty deeds or by the OMYA quitclaim deed. They are also claiming that Old Railroad Bed, LLC has no right, title or interest in the property described in the location survey, warranty deeds or OMYA quitclaim deed, and has no right to enter the defendants and intervenor's property without their permission.
According to the court documents, the Marcus, the Dykes, Vernon West, Cathy Cushing and Bradford West are arguing that since 1936 and for a duration of at least 15 consecutive years they and their predecessors have used and occupied sections of the property - which runs through their properties - without permission from or paying rent to Vermont Marble Company or OMYA, Inc. This was done in a number of ways including fencing the Old Railroad Bed Property in, bulldozing the raised railroad bed flat, plowing it, planting it with crops or pasturing livestock on it.
The defendants and intervenors are further making the claim that since 1936 and for at least 15 consecutive years or more neither Vermont Marble Company or OMYA, Inc. has posted the Old Railroad Bed property, fenced it in, taken possession of it, ejected them or their predecessors in title from the property, demanded that they or their predecessors pay rent, or advised them or their predecessors that they were using the property with the company's permission, according to the court documents.
When Drunsic purchased the property, he said his plan was to have a discussion with the town to determine if they wanted to incorporate it into their current recreation trail system.
"Our intent was to clean it up and turn it into a walking path and then eventually make it available," Drunsic said of the property. "Personally I think it would be a welcome addition to their (the adjoining landowners) property; add value to their property, but they don't seem to look at it that way."
Drunsic said the town considered adding the same property to their recreation trails in 1999 and the same people objected to the idea.
In a telephone conversation on Monday, Don Dykes addressed the possibility of the property being used as a walking or bike path. "We're in favor of a bike path, but not one that would impact the neighbors so adversely," Don Dykes said.
The defendants and intervenors have until Aug. 15 to file motions, according to Drunsic, and he said he believes the case will go to trial.
"It's a very interesting property rights case here," Drunsic said. "I would say all property owners [may want to] watch this closely."
Repeated attemps to contact the other defendants and the intervenors attorney, James Anderson, were unsuccessful.
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