A jury has ordered the city to write a check for nearly $1 million to end a dispute over railroad easements in the Eastern waterfront zone. While that should sting Portland taxpayers, what should sting even more is that in the six years the matter has been litigated — including two full years before the financial collapse that killed the commercial real estate market — key developments were held up.

Like many civil disputes, this one started with an unbridgeable difference of opinion.

The city wanted to use land it owned down by the waterfront to develop the cruise ship and ferry boat terminal Ocean Gateway, but found it was encumbered by 19th century rights of way held by the Portland Co. It made sense for the city to buy the rights of way, but the two sides could not agree on a price.

The company pegged the value at about $2 million, but the city offered only $5,000. With both sides so far apart, negotiations were pointless and the matter went to court.

Neither side got what it wanted, but the jury award looks a lot closer to the Portland Co.’s estimate, suggesting that the city guessed seriously wrong here. You can’t buy much real estate in Portland for $5,000, and it’s easy to see why the company rejected this low-ball offer.

Somebody owes the public an explanation of how this transaction was so badly botched, and how the city’s excessively hard-line stance with a local business will not be repeated.