United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co.,
229 U.S. 53 (1913)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co., 229 U.S. 53 (1913)

United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Company

Nos. 783, 784, 785, 786

Argued April 28, 1913

Decided May 26, 1913

229 U.S. 53


The technical title to the beds of navigable rivers of the United States is either in the states in which the rivers are situated or in the riparian owners, depending upon the local law.

Upon the admission of Michigan as a state into the Union, the bed of the St. Marys River passed to the state; under the law of Michigan, a conveyance of land bordering upon a navigable river carries the title to the middle thread.

The title of the riparian owner to the bed of a navigable stream is a qualified one, and subordinate to the public right of navigation and

Page 229 U. S. 54

subject to the absolute power of Congress over the improvement of navigable rivers.

Under the Constitution,Congress can adopt any means for the improvement of navigation that are not prohibited by that instrument itself.

Commerce includes navigntion, and it is for Congress to determine when and to what extent its powers shall be brought into activity. Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713.

The judgment of Congress as to whether a construction in or over a navigable river is or is not an obstruction to navigation is an exercise of legislative power, and wholly within its control and beyond judicial review, and so held as to the determination of Congress that the whole flow of St. Marys River be directed exclusively to the improvement thereof by the erection of new locks therein.

The flow of the stream of a navigable river is in no sense private property, and there is no room for judicial review, at the instance of a private owner of the banks of the stream, of a determination of Congress that such flow is needed for the improvenent of navigation.

One placing obstructions in a navigable stream under a revocable permit of the Secretary of War does not acquire any right to maintain the same longer than the government continues the license, and an act of Congress revoking the permit does not amount to a taking of private property so far as exclusion from what was covered by the permit is concerned.

Private ownership of running water in a great navigable stream is inconceivable.

Every structure in the water of a navigable river is subordinate to the right of navigation, and must be removed, even if the owners sustain a loss thereby, if Congress, in assertion of its power over navigation, so determines.

The Act of Congress of March 3, 1909, declaring that a public necessity existed for absolute control of all the water of St. Marys River, excludes forever all structures necessary for commercial use of the water power, regardless of whether there may be any surplus in the flow beyond that required for purposes of navigation.

Even if the act declaring that the entire flow of a navigable stream is necessary for navigation provides for the sale of surplus power, the act is still a taking for the purposes of navigation, and not for a commercial use.

If the primary object is a legitimate taking, there is no objection to the usual disposition of what may be a possible surplus of power. Kaukauna Co. v. Green Bay Canal, 142 U. S. 254.

Page 229 U. S. 55

An objection to selling excess water power resulting from construction of works for the improvement of navigation cannot be made by one who has no property right in the water which has been taken.

An owner of upland bordering on a navigable river which is taken under condemnation by the government for the purpose of improving navigation is entitled to compensation for the fair value of the property, but not to any additional values based upon private interest in the potential water power of the river.

The Fifth Amendment is satisfied by payment to the owner of what he actually loses; it does not demand what the taker has gained. Chamber of Commerce v. Boston, 217 U. S. 189.

One whose property is taken by the government for improvement of the navigation of the river on which it borders is not entitled to the probably advanced value by reason of the contemplated improvement. The value is to be fixed as of the date of the proceedings.

One whose land is taken by the government for a particular purpose is entitled to have the fact that the land is peculiarly available for such purpose considered in the appraisal. Boom Co. v. Patterson, 98 U. S. 403.

Where a survey of a town site has not been carried out, the title of the streets does not pass out of the United States, and the value of the street cannot be added to that of the abutting property in condemnation proceedings at the instance of the United States.

The owner of a separate parcel is not entitled to additional value resulting as part of a comprehensive scheme of improvement requiring the taking of his and other property. Chamber of Commerce v. Boston, 217 U. S. 189.

"Strategic value" cannot be allowed in condemnation proceedings; the value of the property to the government for a particular use is not the criterion. The owner is compensated when he is allowed full market value.

Where the state of the title and pending litigation affecting it is set up in the pleadings, the fact that the government seeks condemnation of the property does not amount to conceding that the title is in the party claiming it and against whom the proceeding is directed. In this case, all rights were reserved.

These writs of error are for the purpose of reviewing a judgment in a condemnation proceeding instituted by the United States under the eleventh section of an act of

Page 229 U. S. 56

Congress of March 3, 1909, c. 264, 35 Stat. pp. 815, 820. The section referred to is set out in the margin. *

The notice of condemnation required by the statute was duly given by the Secretary of War, and this proceeding

Page 229 U. S. 57

was instituted against all the corporations and persons supposed to have any interest in the property sought to be condemned. A jury was waived, and the

Page 229 U. S. 58

evidence submitted to the court, which at the request of all the parties, made specific findings of fact and law.

By an agreement, the property of the International Bridge Company required by the government was acquired by deed, and later, in the progress of the case, the property of the Edison-Sault Electric Company involved in the proceeding was acquired by stipulation. This eliminates from the cases every question except those arising in respect to the compensation to be awarded to the Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Company, the St. Marys Power Company, and Clarence M. Brown, receiver of the Michigan Lake Superior Power Company. The final judgment of the court was:

1. That the ownership in fee simple absolute by the United States of all lands and property of every kind and description north of the present St. Marys Falls Ship Canal, throughout its entire length, and lying between the said ship canal and the international line at Sault St. Marie, in the State of Michigan, was necessary for the purposes of navigation of said waters and the waters connected therewith, as declared by the Act of March 3, 1909.

The compensation awarded was as follows:

a. To the Chandler-Dunbar Company, $652,332. Of this, $550,000 was the estimated value of the water power.

b. To the St. Marys Falls Power Company, $21,000.

c. To the Edison-Sault Electric Company, $300,000, which has, however, been settled by stipulation.

d. To the Michigan Lake Superior Power Company, nothing.

From these awards, the government, the Chandler-Dunbar Company, the St. Marys Falls Power Company, and the Michigan Lake Superior Power Company have sued out writs of error.

Page 229 U. S. 59

The errors assigned by the United States challenge the allowance of any compensation whatever on account of any water power right claimed by any of the owners of the condemned upland, and also the principles adopted by the District Court for the valuation of the upland taken. The several corporations, who have sued out writs of error, complain of the inadequacy of the award on account of water power claimed to have been taken, and also of the valuation placed upon the several parcels of upland condemned.

The errors assigned by the United States deny that any water power in which the defendants below had any private property right has been taken, and also deny the claim that riparian owners must be compensated for exclusion from the use of the water power inherent in the falls and rapids of the St. Marys River, whether the flow of the river be larger than the needs of navigation or not. The award of $550,000 on account of the claim of the Chandler-Dunbar Company to the undeveloped water power of the river at the St. Marys rapids in excess of the supposed requirements of navigation constitutes the prime question in the case, and its importance is increased by the contention of that company that the assessment of damages on that account is grossly inadequate, and should have been $3,450,000.

Each of the several plaintiffs in error also challenges the awards made on account of the several parcels of upland taken, the government insisting that the awards are excessive and the owners that they are inadequate.

Page 229 U. S. 60

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