A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today affirmed the regulated legal status of the Harsimus Branch and its historic Embankment. The higher court affirmed the September 10, 2013, ruling by the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, that the Harsimus Branch is a rail line subject to SurfaceTransportation Board (STB) jurisdiction.
Wholly apart from STB regulation, this means, as the current owner's attorneys have elsewhere admitted, that the current owner's deeds are invalid. Moreover, under applicable state law, at a minimum the line cannot be sold by Conrail to a developer without its first being offered to the City of Jersey City on equivalent terms. The City desires to acquire the property for historic preservation, park, open space, trail, and transportation corridor purposes.
Responding to the Appeals Court ruling, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said, "This is another step that only serves to validate the City's position on the Embankment. We are committed to this fight and partnership with the Embankment Coalition to create a world-class citywide park in Jersey City."
Charles Montange, joint federal rail attorney for the City of Jersey City, Rail to Trails Conservancy, and the Embankment Preservation Coalition, said, "The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appropriately made short shrift of the continued efforts by the developer to prolong this litigation. As Conrail has made clear, the developer has known or at least should have known all along that the Harsimus Branch was a line of railroad subject to the abandonment jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board. As such, it could not lawfully be abandoned by Conrail, much less sold to the developer, without prior authorization from STB, which Conrail neither sought nor obtained. This has not only unlawfully imperilled an important historic asset (the Harsimus Embankment) but also threatened with complete dismemberment the last undeveloped transportation corridor that can serve downtown Jersey City, much less the East Coast Greenway.:
Embankment Preservation Coalition president Stephen Gucciardo said, "The Coalition board thanks the City of Jersey City and Rails to Trails Conservancy for their partnership. We are grateful to the local and regional organizations that have been our allies for years We are especially indebted to our local community for their steadfast support. We look forward to working with the community during the anticipated historic assets review. We will continue to work for preservation of the historic site and its appropriate reuse as a linear park, destination on the East Coast Greeenway, and transportation corridor for the 21st Century."