Constitutional Law – Eminent Domain – Condemnation of Riparian Lands Under the Commerce Power

The power of the United States to regulate commerce comprehends a right to control navigation and the means of navigation. To the extent necessary for the enjoyment of this power the government may condemn riparian property. The federal power of eminent domain is limited by the mandate of the Fifth Amendment which requires just compensation for private property taken for a public use. Usually, the standard of just compensation is the market value of the property, taking into consideration the most profitable uses for which the property is suited and likely to be used at the time of the taking, but not including any special value it may have solely to the taker. By this test the market value of land riparian to a navigable stream would seem to include the uses a ·riparian owner can make of the river, including water rights and potential hydroelectric uses of the river and adjacent land. However, in United States v. Twin City Power Co. the Supreme Court ruled that the United States as condemner of riparian land on a navigable river need not pay the owner the value the lands have as a power dam site, even though the condemnee held the land for that purpose and the government took the land to build its own dam. The Court said that the United States has a quasi-proprietary right in navigable waters, as against the owner of the river bank, derived from its plenary power to regulate and control such waters in aid of navigation.