As reported in Municipal Issue Report No. 2011-3, the Missouri Supreme Court held in St. Charles County v. Laclede Gas Co., No. SC91539 (Mo. Aug. 30, 2011), that St. Charles County was required to pay the relocation costs of Laclede Gas in conjunction with a County street widening project. The Court held that a subdivision plat that included language granting a utility easement created a private property interest in Laclede Gas that was subject to a “taking” even though located directly in the public right-of-way. The County’s request for rehearing was denied on January 31, and the Court’s decision now stands as a major shift in law regarding local government control over rights-of-way.
Municipalities should consider affirmative steps to minimize the impact of this case in the future. Possible steps may include:
Amending subdivision regulations to prohibit plats from dedicating “private utility easements” in public rights-of-way.
Requiring dedications of rights-of-way to be free and clear of private easements that now may be subject to taking before approving plats.
Requiring companies with facilities in the rights-of-way to obtain franchises or rights-of-way agreements that includes provisions for relocation of utility facilities.
Obtaining deeds and/or title insurance to protect against competing interests in dedicated rights-of-way.
You should discuss this issue with legal counsel to address the impacts of this case and help protect the public from the private interests of utility companies delaying or blocking necessary public street projects.