(CN) – The Court of Federal Claims ordered the federal government to pay a San Diego County landowner more than $3 million in back rent after the Border Patrol installed seismic sensors on several lots along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to catch illegal immigrants.
The Border Patrol had buried the sensors from 1999 through 2009 on 897 acres of land in Otay Mesa owned by the Roque De La Fuente II family. In a 2009 trial, the court found the U.S. government liable for taking an easement on five parcels by installing the sensors, but the parties had vastly different views of what constituted “just compensation.”
The landowners claimed that the government owed them more than $23 million in back rent based on comparable real estate deals in the area. The government offered to pay just $100 each for the five parcels based on a “before-and-after” valuation method, arguing that the sensors had no effect on the value of the property.
The Washington, D.C.-based appeals court found the government’s numbers far too low, but found the property owner’s claim to be “overstated.”
The censors amount to a temporary easement, Wheeler concluded, as they would have been removed had the owners wanted to develop the land. He ordered the government to pay an amount equal to a comparable lease.
The two “most comparable leases,” he ruled, are two nearby easements used for parachuting: a 79-acre lease for night parachute training by the U.S. Navy at $58 per acre, and an 80-acre lease to a skydiving company at $25 per acre.
Wheeler took the average of both leases to come up with $41.50 per acre and ordered the government to pay the land owner $3,043,051.
“Parachuters obviously cannot predict with precision where they will land on the leased property, so greater acreage is leased than will actually be occupied or used at any one time,” Wheeler wrote.
“Similar to these two broad but minimally intrusive leases, the government has taken an expansive easement over plaintiffs’ property to place and access a small device. Thus, the court finds it most appropriate to use the rental rates of these properties, leased for activities similar in scope to those being carried out by the government on plaintiffs’ property.