1. An owner of land in the bed of a navigable stream between
high and low water mark, though his title is recognized by the
State, is not entitled to compensation from the United States for a
decrease in the value of the land resulting from operations by the
United States for the improvement of navigation. P. 324 U. S.
2. A riparian owner whose fast lands were not invaded is not
entitled to compensation from the United States for a decrease,
resulting from operations by the United States for the improvement
of navigation, in such value as his lands may have had by reason of
their proximity to navigable waters. P. 324 U. S.
3. A project pursuant to which a navigable water was dredged and
the dredged material was deposited in a connecting navigable water,
though originated for the improvement of shore facilities and
though navigation of the connecting water was thereby blocked, was
an integrated project which bore a substantial relation to commerce
or navigation, and the rule of governmental nonliability was
applicable. P. 324 U. S.
4. The constitutional power of the federal government to
regulate commerce may be exercised to block navigation at one place
in order to aid it at another. P. 324 U. S. 393
143 F.2d 720 reversed.
Certiorari, 323 U.S. 698, to review the affirmance of a judgment
for the plaintiff in a suit against the United States under the
Page 324 U. S. 387
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The United States dredged a tidewater navigable bay and
deposited the dredged materials in a navigable arm of the bay
called Mason Creek, thereby destroying its navigability, and
impairing certain benefits alleged to inhere in the proximity of
the land to a navigable tidewater creek. The broad question
presented is whether the Fifth Amendment requires the government to
compensate an owner of residential property contiguous to the creek
whose fast lands, though not physically invaded, were decreased in
Commodore Park Inc., an owner of lands on the creek about a mile
away from the filled-in segment, brought this suit in the District
Court under the Tucker Act, 24 Stat. 505, 28 U.S.C. § 41(20), for
damages resulting from a "taking" by the government of its property
for public use in connection with a naval facilities expansion
program. As the case comes to us, [Footnote 1
] the material findings,
Page 324 U. S. 388
which we accept, are that the government (1) caused mud and silt
to settle on that part of the land in question lying in the bed of
what had been a navigable tidewater creek before the project was
completed, and (2) destroyed the navigability of the creek, thereby
depriving respondent of that part of the market value of its fast
land attributable to its proximity and accessibility to a fresh
tidewater creek in its natural and navigable state. The
government's answer, so far as material to our decision, is that
respondent's alleged ownership of the land between high and low
water marks and its "riparian rights" of access to the navigable
waters both were subordinate to the government's plenary authority
over navigable waters of the United States, that its program was
effectuated pursuant to that authority, and that consequently there
had been no "taking" of "private property" within the meaning of
the Fifth Amendment.
The District Court held that the entire project had no
substantial relation to navigation or commerce, and found that the
market value of the land lying between high and low water marks had
been decreased by the mud and silt deposits, and that respondent's
fast land had been reduced in value because of the loss of the
riparian rights of access for navigation, fishing, boating, and the
like. It accordingly rendered judgment for respondent "for the
damages it . . . sustained as a result of the taking of its
riparian rights and lands. . . ." The Circuit Court of Appeals
unanimously agreed that the dredging operation was done in
furtherance of navigation and commerce, but a majority held that
the depositing of the dredged material in the creek was not in aid
of navigation, and therefore affirmed the District Court. 143 F.2d
720. Because it is important that the government's power to engage
in projects in aid of navigation and commerce be clearly defined,
we granted certiorari, 323 U.S. 698.
Page 324 U. S. 389
A few additional facts drawn from the record will serve to
clarify the issues.
In 1940, the respondent owned a residential real estate
development in Norfolk, Virginia, located on the east side of Mason
Creek, a navigable tidewater which extended inland about four or
five miles from the navigable waters of Willoughby Bay. West of
Mason Creek, and adjacent to Willoughby Bay, was located the
Hampton Roads Naval Operating Base, which maintained a Naval Air
Station with shore facilities for seaplanes. It was this station,
which, under the authority of Congress, [Footnote 2
] the Navy Department enlarged and improved.
In order to provide suitable waters for the operation of large
seaplanes, the Navy, acting in conjunction with the War Department,
30 Stat. 1121, 1151-1155, dredged Willoughby Bay to a depth of 10
to 15 feet below mean low water. Additional lands adjacent to the
base were bought or condemned by the government on both the east
and west sides of Mason Creek. The materials dredged from the bay
were in part deposited in Mason Creek between the shores of lands
owned by the government adjacent to the bay. By this process, the
bed of Mason Creek was at that point raised to the level of its
shores, thereby becoming incorporated as an integral and useful
part of the Naval Operating Base. This fill, reinforced by
bulwarks, dikes, and retaining walls, cut off the remainder of
Mason Creek, along which respondent's land bordered, from any
navigable outlet to Willoughby Bay and the sea. It also blocked off
the tidal movements which previously had provided an element of
freshness in Mason Creek's waters, thereby resulting in a standing
and stagnant pool. This condition at the request of property
owners, was later alleviated by digging a channel in the stream's
Page 324 U. S. 390
connecting it with the bay by a culvert, much smaller in area
than the original bed. An iron grate placed where the culvert
emptied its waters into the bay closed it to navigation. We must
take it from the findings below that the size and construction of
the culvert were inadequate to afford a completely free tidal
movement, and that, as a result, the waters of Mason Creek became
"semi-stagnant," depriving them of the same freshness they had
possessed before the work was done.
The judgment for respondent involves no physical
invasion of its fast lands. Its property was more than a mile from
the fill made in Mason Creek. The only land for which compensation
was awarded because of mud and silt deposits was that part of the
creek's bed between high and low water mark. That Virginia
recognizes respondent's title to such land [Footnote 3
] cannot give respondent a right to
compensation if its market value is impaired as a result of work
done by the United States in the interest of improvement of
navigation. United States v. Chicago, M., St. P. & P. R.
Co., 312 U. S. 592
312 U. S.
-598, set at rest any remaining doubt concerning the
dominant power of the government to control and regulate navigable
waters in the interest of commerce [Footnote 4
] without payment of compensation to one who
under state law may hold "technical" legal title (as between
himself and others than the government) to a part of the navigable
Nor does a riparian owner acquire a unique
private right, distinct from that held by all others, to have
access to and enjoyment of navigable waters and to recover
compensation from the government because deprived of that privilege
by an authorized governmental
Page 324 U. S. 391
change in a stream. [Footnote
] Respondent's property was always subject to a dominant
servitude; it did not have a vested right to have this navigable
stream remain fixed and unaltered simply because of the consequent
reflected additional market value to adjacent lands. Whatever
market value of riparian lands may be attributable to their
closeness to navigable waters does not detract from the
government's "absolute" power, [Footnote 6
] in the interests of commerce, to make
necessary changes in a stream. In short, as against the demands of
commerce, an owner of land adjacent to navigable waters whose fast
lands are left uninvaded has no private riparian rights of access
to the waters to do such things as "fishing and boating and the
like," for which rights the government must pay. [Footnote 7
] Riparian rights of access to
navigable waters cannot, as against the government's power to
control commerce, be bought and sold.
It is argued that the foregoing rule of
governmental nonliability is inapplicable to this case. Since the
Navy Department originated this plan with a view to improvement of
shore facilities, we are asked to hold that neither the dredging in
Willoughby Bay nor the deposit of the dredged material in Mason
Creek bore any real or substantial relation to commerce or
navigation. Such a holding was the basis of the District Court's
judgment. The Circuit Court held that the dredging in Willoughby
Bay was, but the deposit in Mason Creek was not, related to
commerce or navigation. We cannot agree. The
"fact that purposes other than navigation will also be served
could not invalidate the exercise of the authority conferred,
Page 324 U. S. 392
even if those other purposes would not alone have justified an
exercise of Congressional Power."
Arizona v. California, 283 U.
, 283 U. S.
All the waters affected were navigable. The Constitution
entrusted to Congress the responsibility of determining what
obstructions may or may not be placed in such waters. [Footnote 8
] This power Congress may
exercise itself or through its duly authorized agents. [Footnote 9
] Here, the War Department,
selected by Congress to pass upon when and to what extent,
navigable waters may be altered or obstructed, permitted, and
actually supervised, the program accomplished. Even though cases
might arise in which the courts would look behind the judgment of
this specially authorized agency, [Footnote 10
] this is not such a case.
While this project touched two separate, although closely
related, bodies of navigable waters, and looked to improvement of
shore, as well as water facilities, the entire program as to the
waters was designed to achieve one closely integrated unit. That
there were two bodies of navigable waters to which the one program
related does not detract from Congressional power as to either, for
its powers are broad enough to justify one unified program for the
connected body of waters to the end that commerce in general may be
fostered. [Footnote 11
Thus, having power under the Commerce Clause to obstruct
navigation by depositing the dredged soil in Willoughby
Page 324 U. S. 393
Bay, the government was likewise authorized to deposit in Mason
Creek for the same purpose. There is power to block navigation at
one place to foster it at another. [Footnote 12
] Whether this blocking be done by altering
the stream's course, by lighthouses, jetties, piers, or a dam made
of dredged material, the government's power is the same, and, in
the instant case, is derived from the same source -- its authority
to regulate commerce. Since the judgment awarded rested entirely
upon the conclusion that respondent's property had been taken by
"filling and closing Mason Creek," and since all of respondent
"riparian rights" were subordinate to the government's power to
close the stream, the judgment is
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS is of the opinion that the judgment should
be affirmed for the reasons stated in the opinion of the Circuit
Court of Appeals, 143 F.2d 720-721.
In the District Court, respondent also claimed that mud and silt
had been cast on his fast lands. This part of the claim was denied
by the District Court, and we need not consider it. With reference
to it, the Circuit Court of Appeals said:
"This relief dredging gave rise to the additional claim on the
part of the plaintiff that mud and silt had been deposited on its
land not only between high and low water mark, but also above high
water mark. But the District Judge disallowed this part of the
claim, as he found that no material damage had been suffered in
excess of the benefit which the plaintiff had derived from the
partial filling of low marshes, inlets, and coves on its property.
No appeal was taken by the plaintiff."
United States v. Commodore Park,
143 F.2d 720, 722.
48 Stat. 957; 53 Stat. 590-592; 53 Stat. 757, 772, 773.
Scott v. Doughty,
124 Va. 358, 97 S.E. 802; Hite v.
Town of Luray,
175 Va. 218, 8 S.E.2d 369.
United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co.,
229 U. S. 53
229 U. S. 60
229 U. S. 62
229 U. S. 68
229 U. S. 72
Scranton v. Wheeler, 179 U. S. 141
179 U. S.
Scranton v. Wheeler, supra, 179 U. S.
-160; Stockton v. Baltimore & N.Y. R.
32 F. 9, 20.
United States v. River Rouge Imp. Co., 269 U.
, 269 U. S. 419
Gilman v. City of
3 Wall. 713, 70 U. S.
Gibson v. United States, 166 U.
; Scranton v. Wheeler, supra.
United States v. Chandler-Dunbar Water Power Co.,
supra, 229 U. S. 62
Pennsylvania v. Wheeling &
Belmont Bridge Co.,
18 How. 421.
Union Bridge Co. v. United States, 204 U.
, 204 U. S. 377
204 U. S. 388
Greenleaf-Johnson Lumber Co. v. Garrison, 237 U.
, 237 U. S. 268
South Carolina v. Georgia, 93 U. S.
, 93 U. S. 13
See Greenleaf Lumber Co. v. Garrison, supra,
237 U. S. 268
United States v. Appalachian Electric Power Co.,
311 U. S. 377
311 U. S. 424
Arizona v. California, 283 U. S. 423
283 U. S.
United States v. Appalachian Power Co., supra,
311 U. S.
-427; Oklahoma v. Atkinson Co., 313 U.
, 313 U. S.
South Carolina v. Georgia, supra; Scranton v. Wheeler,
supra; Arizona v. California, supra, 283 U. S.