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Adequacy of compensation for crash site at issue

A federal court in Pennsylvania is holding proceedings to determine whether adequate compensation was provided to the owner of land seized by eminent domain that encompassed the site on which United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County on September 11, 2001. That flight was, according to authorities, hijacked by terrorists and crashed after a fight between the hijackers and passengers. The crash occurred on the same day as three other hijacked planes staged terrorist attacks.

The owner of the property had planned to build a private museum, as well as a public memorial, on the land. In 2009, however, the government used eminent domain powers to seize the property, paying approximately $2,200 an acre or $610,000 for the 275 acres owned by one man, taking about 1,000 acres in the area at the time, including surrounding pasture land. The owner of the 275 acre property is claiming that the actual value of his land, based on his development plans and expected public interest in and attendance at his museum, would more fairly be set at $23.3 million. He had planned to charge $9 admission to his museum and visitor center.

Accordingly, he initiated a lawsuit to assert that he had not received constitutionally mandated "just compensation" for his property. The land had previously been strip mined and had been owned by his family since approximately 1961. While the government has the right to seize land for a public purpose using the power of eminent domain, it is required to pay a fair price to private landowners. When the property owner believes that they have not been fairly compensated, they can have a lawyer initiate a lawsuit to challenge the adequacy of the compensation.

Since the crash, according to National Park Service records, over 100,000 visitors have come to the scene of the crash annually, with attendance reaching 318,000 people in 2012. A total of $28.5 million has been spent by the Park Service on the construction of roads and memorials on what is now referred to as the Fight 93 National Memorial. A recently awarded contract has allocated an additional $20 million to add other improvements, including a footbridge and a visitors' center. The government is arguing in the court case that, without all this construction, the land was worth no more than what it paid for it.

After a trial, a panel of three special commissioners will be issuing a written report and recommendations to assist the federal trial judge in making her final ruling.

TribLive.com, "Panel to advise judge in Flight 93 property case" Jason Cato, Oct. 12, 2013

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