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(Crystal Proenza is associate editor of Real Estate Florida.)

JACKSONVILLE, FL-In May, GlobeSt.com reported that after two years of legal battle, Fort Myers-based Keystone Coal Co. won the battle against the Jacksonville Port Authority in a highly publicized eminent domain case. While JaxPort had valued a desired 70-acre tract along the St. Johns River at $17 million, the jury valued the property at $67.4 million. Now, more than two months after the verdict, the port has decided to abandon the taking of the land.

“I think the intent of JaxPort was to not only take the property, but attempt to take the bargain that Keystone Coal President Tom Scholl received when he purchased the property,” eminent domain attorney Andrew Brigham of Brigham Moore LLP, tells GlobeSt.com. Keystone had secured the land through a letter of commitment to buy for $8 million in 2005 to develop a deep-water coal and bulk cargo terminal. Shortly after, JaxPort began to take eminent domain proceedings.

The port had previously declined on open-market opportunities to buy the site, says Brigham, but showed more interest after plans for the widening of the Panama Canal increased demand and value of such property. When asked if Keystone plans to go ahead with its original plans for the tract, Brigham says the company is “full steam ahead.” A kiln located on the property, the value of which was also the cause of debate with JaxPort, says Brigham, is also part of plans Keystone has for the import of limestone.

In May, after the jury verdict, regarded as the largest eminent domain verdict in Florida, Nancy Rubin, the port’s communications director told GlobeSt.com they might consider requesting a new trial, or decline to purchase the land. “We definitely think the amount is too high,” she said. “We had hoped to put the property to the best use for the people of Jacksonville.” Calls to the port authority were not returned on Tuesday.

“The importance of a jury trial is that it levels the playing field between individual and government,” says Brigham, pointing to the case as an important one for the state of Florida. “While the government has this awesome power of eminent domain, it cannot take private property without paying a just compensation.”

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