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The condemnation of private land adjoining a navigable river as part of a project for the improvement of the river basin, the just compensation which the Fifth Amendment requires to be paid does not include the value of the water power in the flow of the stream.
In the execution of a project that was approved by Congress for the development of the river basin for flood control and other purposes, among them the improvement of navigation, appellee, the United States, brought a suit for condemnation of land adjoining the river, a navigable stream. The land was owned by appellant power companies, Twin City Power Co., which had acquired it for the development of a power project. Appellant was awarded compensation by a trial court in three condemnation cases for the Government's taking of lands in connection with a water power and flood control development on a river. The lands taken had been acquired by the appellant for the development of a power project in the river. The commissioners who heard evidence on the question of compensation filed a comprehensive report showing that the lands taken, when considered in connection with their availability for water power purposes, had a specific value per acre, and valued them accordingly. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's awards. On certiorari review, the Court reversed. Appellant, United States Government, sought certiorari for review of the decision of the US Court of Appeals, which held that appellee was entitled to compensation for the Government's taking of interest in the flow of navigable waters.
Was the appellee power company entitled to compensation under the Fifth Amendment?
The court reversed the lower courts' judgments and denied compensation. The court held that appellant power company, as the owner of riparian land interest in the flow of the navigable waters of the river, was not entitled to compensation from the Government. The court further held that appellant did not own an interest in the flowing water, and the Government's interests in the flowing water was subject to its power to control navigable waters. Thus, to have required the Government to pay for that water-power value would have been to improperly create private claims in the public domain.