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Coastal Petroleum Co. v. United States

Citation: 6 ELR 20193
No. No. 309-72, 524 F.2d 1206/(Ct. Cl., 10/22/1975)

Under the federal government's navigation servitude, compensation need not be paid to a lessee for minerals below the mean high water mark of Florida's Lake Okeechobee that have been used by the Corps of Engineers to construct a flood control levee. Plaintiff's mineral-drilling lease applies to all minerals, including limestone. Collins v. Coastal Petroleum Co., 118 So. 2d 796 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1960). Pursuant to easements acquired by the government from the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Districts after being conveyed by plaintiff's lessor, the Corps started constructing the levee using the subject limestone. Plaintiff's efforts to obtain a mining permit from the Corps were denied, largely on environmental grounds; this was upheld on review. Coastal Petroleum Co. v. Secretary of the Army, 315 F. Supp. 845 (S.D. Fla. 1970). The district court, subsequent to the decision in Zabel v. Tabb, 430 F.2d 199, 1 ELR 20023 (5th Cir. 1970), declared that no compensable taking existed, dismissed as against the government, and held as a matter of state law that plaintiff acquired no interest in the minerals until they were mined.

The defendant's collateral estoppel argument need not be reached. Through its navigation servitude, the federal government retains a dominant interest in all submerged land within navigable waters below the mean high water mark. United States v. Chicago, M., St. P. & P. R.R., 312 U.S. 592 (1941). The servitude applies to flood control projects as well as to navigation aids. United States v. Twin City Power Co., 350 U.S. 222 (1956). A declaration similar to that in the present enabling statute, Act of June 30, 1948, 62 Stat. 1175, that the project's purpose is to benefit navigation and control flooding, has been held conclusive in determining the navigational character of a project. United States v. Grand River Dam Authority, 363 U.S. 229 (1960).

Congress may decide, under its commerce power, to compensate owners of submerged navigable lands. United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725 (1950). Absent a clear congressional intent to compensate, however, Congress is presumed to exercise its navigation power in authorizing navigation projects. United States v. Twin City Power Co., supra. Since nearby mining would have destroyed the levee being built for navigational purposes, plaintiff has no compensable interest.Even for that portion of the minerals taken from outside the immediate vicinity of the levee, no compensable taking occurred, where the limestone was taken from beneath navigable waters, and the navigation benefit is viewed relative to the Lake Okeechobee project as a whole. United States v. Commodore Park, Inc., 324 U.S. 396 (1945). A commercial, rather than military, benefit to the government justifies invocation of the navigation servitude. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted; the case is remanded to the trial division for consideration of plaintiff's other count asserting a separate claim under a different lease.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (7 pp. $1.00), ELR Order No. C-1021).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Irving R. M. Panzer
1735 De Sales St. N.W.
Washington DC 20036
(202) 783-3391

C. Dean Reasoner
E. Michael Paturis
Reasoner, Davis & Vinson
1100 Fleming Bldg.
800 17th St., N.W.
Washington DC 20006
(202) 798-8100

Counsel for Defendant
Irwin L. Schroeder
Wallace H. Johnson
Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-2770

Davis, J., for himself, Cowen, C.J., & Nichols, J.