ATLANTA—Today, a group of Sparta, Georgia, property owners announced they have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge a private railroad’s attempt to take their land for a rail spur that would benefit a private business. IJ will represent Don and Sally Garrett, Blaine and Diane Smith, and Marvin and Pat Smith in a legal proceeding before the Georgia Public Service Commission against Sandersville Railroad’s attempt to use eminent domain to condemn and take their land.
In March 2023, Sandersville filed a petition with the Georgia Public Service Commission to obtain the authority to condemn the land owned by the Garretts and the Smiths to build a rail spur to haul materials used for making concrete out of the Hanson Quarry, owned by Heidelberg Materials. The taking of the land—which would require parcels from some 18 properties nearby—would serve no public interest. It would simply allow Heidelberg to export materials via train instead of trucks.
“Taking people’s private land and handing it over to a private company for the benefit of a private business isn’t just wrong, it’s unconstitutional and against Georgia law,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bill Maurer. “The power to use eminent domain is limited to public uses and the public is not going to use this railroad—a private business is. Neither the Constitution nor Georgia statutes permit this kind of abuse of the eminent domain power.”
Sandersville Railroad is a powerful business with political connections. Meanwhile, the landowners in rural Sparta are fighting to save properties that have been in their respective families for generations. The Garrett family, for example, has owned the land since the 1800s.
“This is more than just land to our family – it’s where we’ve shared memories and built a life for ourselves for generations,” said Don. “We’re not going to let Sandersville just go in and take it from us.”
As for the Smiths, Marvin and Blaine’s great grandmother was born a slave on the property, which was then a cotton plantation. In the 1920s, their grandfather and grandmother were able to obtain part of the land as their own. They farmed the land, and always told their children to hold onto it—and they have. The property has been in the Smith family ever since.
While the Smiths now live in Maryland, they routinely come back to visit the house they grew up in and they plan to continue keeping this land in their family for future generations.
“Our family has owned this land for 100 years, and we plan to continue owning it for generations to come,” said Blaine. “We refuse to let a private company come take the land that we hope to leave for our children and our children’s children.”
“It’s clear to anyone that Sandersville’s attempt to take land from the Garretts and Smiths serves no legitimate public interest,” said IJ Litigation Fellow Betsy Sanz. “We look forward to standing up for these property owners in their fight against this unconstitutional land grab.”
The Institute for Justice (IJ) is the national expert on defending property owners against eminent domain abuse and other property rights violations. It represents the property owners in Sparta whose land would be seized by this eminent domain taking. Those property owners include Don and Sally Garrett, Blaine and Diane Smith, and Marvin and Pat Smith.