The state now needs to pay a construction company that owns the land near Gano Street.

Rhode Island built a section of the Blackstone River Bikeway on private property and will have to compensate a construction company for taking its land, a Superior Court judge has ruled.

The Bikeway's southernmost section begins on Gano Street in the Providence's Fox Point neighborhood and passes behind the offices of general contractor H.V. Collins, which in 2016 sued the state Department of Transportation soon after the agency began building the path.

In the suit, H.V. Collins and lead legal counsel Robert Flanders (the former judge and U.S. Senate candidate) argued that it has owned the land behind its beige brick single-story building since 1950 and DOT officials had no right to build a bike path on it.

In a ruling filed Monday, Judge Michael Silverstein agreed and ordered the state to go through a process to find out how much they owe the construction company.

"As such, the State's construction of the Bike Path, without notice or consent from Collins Properties, constituted a taking of Plaintiff's land and its [water access] rights," Silverstein wrote in the decision. "Accordingly, Plaintiff is entitled to just compensation from the State, in an amount to be determined in a future proceeding."

Laying claim to the land, the DOT went back to an 1847 "Plot of What Cheer Estate belonging to the heirs of the late Gov. Jas. Fenner," which showed a road called Beach Avenue sketched out in the area of the bike path, according to court documents.

Although Beach Avenue was never built, and at the time it was drawn was actually under water, the state argued that the document showed a public right-of-way that belonged to the City of Providence.

Before starting work on the bike path, the DOT seized the land labeled Beach Street from the city through eminent domain.

DOT Spokesman Charles St. Martin wrote in an email Wednesday that the state paid Providence "a nominal fee" for the bike path land.

But H.V. Collins countered that the city never acknowledged the existence of Beach Avenue, let alone tried to use it. It even built a fence, which the state later tore down, separating Collins' land from the public boat launch on Gano Street, underlining that it was never public property and that the state seized it from the wrong owner.

"Therefore, at the time the State attempted to condemn Beach Ave. in 2015, the Court finds the State failed to produce evidence of the acceptance by the City of the paper street and certainly no evidence of such acceptance within a reasonable time," Silverstein wrote. "Accordingly, the State's attempted condemnation of Beach Ave. from the City was ineffective."

There's no indication in the order of how much the state might have to pay H.V. Collins.

St. Martin said the state intends to appeal.

The 0.7-mile section of bike path from Gano Street to Pitman Street cost $2.5 million in federal funds, was built by J.H. Lynch & Sons Inc. over one year and opened in August 2017. State leaders hope to one day connect it to northerly sections of the Blackstone Bikeway all the way to the Massachusetts border.

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