John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

The case for the Bernard Island Corporation was presented by attorneys Hubbard Yoder and Robert Thomas Schlesinger, with the assistance of three paralegals, three appraisers, a tabletop model of Bernard Island as it would have looked when developed, a series of slides showing the development of comparable Gulf-front land in the area, along with the assessed value thereof, a history of the sales of land in the vicinity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast along with arm’s-length appraisals thereof, a file of the land sales on Bernard Island with the prices the buyers were willing to pay for the lots. They also qualified certain experts and put them on the stand an expert in beach erosion and how to limit its damage, a hydrologist, an ecologist and an expert in oceanfront construction.

The Court heard the government’s arguments first, and then recessed for lunch, and came back and told the Bernard Island Corporation to present its case concerning the proper value which should be put on the property.

In his opening statement Bobby Tom Schlesinger called the Court’s attention to the fact that the United States government had been making ineffective gestures toward taking over all the barrier islands for at least fifteen years, and this uncertainty had played a part in keeping the value of all that land depressed. He also stated that inasmuch as the potential developer had not foreseen any special problem in getting the rights and permissions granted to develop and build on Bernard Island, then the highest and best use was surely ocean-front residential and resort usage rather than national park usage. He said it was their intention to show the Court that by being deprived of their ownership of this land, the stockholders of the corporation stood to lose a minimum of ten million dollars, so that should be the price the government should pay.

The Bernard Island Corporation presentation was continued on the following day, and was completed by four o’clock on the afternoon of Friday, September twelfth. Tucker Loomis, president and principal stockholder in the Bernard Island Corporation, was in attendance both days, having arrived by private jet owned by Regal Construction. He was interviewed by television, newspaper and radio representatives several times during the recesses and at the end of each court day. He said he was confident of fair treatment by Judge Swane, a man he had never met but who certainly had a good reputation in the area. He said he had made himself available for examination by the government attorneys but that they had apparently decided nothing would be gained by questioning him on the stand.

Rather than adjourning the Court at four o’clock, Judge Swane declared a half-hour recess and went to his chambers with a stack of the documents presented by the Bernard Island Corporation. The attorneys and personnel of the Bernard Island Corporation used this interlude to pack up their numerous bulky exhibits, the screen and slide projector, and the cartons of additional documents, and carry them out to the two vans parked near the court house.

During the half-hour recess Judge Swane had written a short statement which he read into the record when Court was readjourned.

“This Court has listened with care to the arguments, statements and testimony of expert witnesses presented by both sides. Certain adjustments have been made in the amount requested by the corporation, reducing the claim finally by fifteen percent on the grounds that it is not probable that the land in question would ever be totally developed, and variations in the going price of land would tend to raise a question concerning the optimum value of land sales reported by the corporation and properly recorded. The most significant factor affecting the Court’s decision in this matter is that at no time did the government attorneys raise any objection to the comparable sales data for other areas as presented by the corporation attorneys. It is hereby ordered that the sum of eight million five hundred thousand dollars shall be paid as a proper recompense for the condemnation of the lands in question. This sum is due and payable as of today, and interest on that sum shall begin to accrue as of today.”

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Categories: John D MacDonald