Mercer Co. farmers file contempt of court against ODNR over delays

CELINA, Ohio — Legal counsel representing farmers whose land has been flooded as a result of a dam built in 1997 at Grand Lake St. Marys has filed a motion for contempt of court against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for failing to compensate landowners for their loss.

The action was filed Sept. 6 by Vorys Legal Counsel. A spokesperson for the law firm said the order is meant “to compel” ODNR “to comply with a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court last year to compensate 87 farmers, families and business owners along Grand Lake St. Marys whose lands flood during rain storms.”

ODNR filed its own letter Sept. 17, saying they are “working diligently” toward meeting the requirements of compensating landowners and assessing damages.

The issue dates back to 1997, when ODNR installed a horseshoe-shaped dam in the hopes that the lake would become more self-sustaining and no longer require ODNR to drain the lake once a year to prevent flooding. However, that goal was never realized and the residents and business owners of the area have suffered significant floods almost every year for the last 15 years, according to Vorys.

Extensive damage

Flooding has been bad enough to damage crops and temporarily evacuate homes.

ODNR maintains its staff are still assessing how much is owed, and that payments will be made.

“ODNR agrees property owners in the flood zone around the spillway at GLSM are owed a monetary amount for property loss,” according to Bethany McCorkle, interim chief of communications. “We need to be good stewards of Ohio’s tax dollars and will not automatically agree to pay inflated multi-million dollar settlement demands for land that is not in the flood zone. We have an obligation to Ohio taxpayers to make sure that each case is valued fairly and we will carry out that obligation.”

Last December, the Ohio Supreme Court found that ODNR was required to compensate 87 landowners in the area for the flooding on their land.

The court’s 7-0 decision found that the state’s 1997 widening of the western spillway caused “a significant increase in the frequency, severity and duration of flooding of downstream properties, to the detriment of the owners of those properties.”

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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