Dan King
Dan King · April 2, 2024

ATLANTA—On Monday, a hearing officer for the Georgia Public Service Commission ruled that Sandersville Railroad’s attempt to take private land from several property owners in Sparta, Georgia, for the benefit of a private business, “serves a legitimate public purpose.” The property owners, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), will challenge this decision. 

“When the U.S. Supreme Court issued the unpopular and widely condemned Kelo decision, the Georgia General Assembly passed strict reforms to ensure that nothing like that would happen in this state. Today’s initial decision essentially undoes that work,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bill Maurer. “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.” 

Sandersville filed its petition to obtain the authority to condemn and take the land owned by Don and Sally Garrett in March 2023. In May, the Garretts, Blaine and Diane Smith, and Marvin and Pat Smith teamed up with IJ to challenge this condemnation. In July, even more property owners joined after Sandersville moved to condemn even more land for its proposed rail spur, which would connect a private slate quarry to existing rail tracks. 

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

IJ and the property owners will now file an application to have the full Georgia Public Service Commission review Monday’s decision.  “Anyone who looks at the evidence presented in this case can see that Sandersville’s attempt to take our clients’ land does not serve a public interest, but rather benefits a multinational corporation running a rock quarry and, at best, a select few other private companies,” said IJ Attorney Betsy Sanz. “We’re hopeful the full commission will see this for what it is: a naked attempt by private companies to take someone else’s property so they can make more money for themselves.”