New eminent domain legislation is more focused

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farm eminent domain
The Cameron farm as seen from the railroad bed in the valley below. The railroad bed is the subject of an eminent domain lawsuit filed by Mill Creek MetroParks against the Camerons. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Legislation to help Mahoning County farmers fight eminent domain continues on even after its leader is gone.

Ohio state Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, introduced House Bill 476 earlier this year, with Rep. Stephen Hambley, R-Brunswick. The bill seeks to change the process by which landowners can protest an eminent domain claim on their land.

Manning died suddenly on March 20 of an apparent heart attack. The Ohio House Republican Caucus will soon choose his replacement. At least 15 people have applied to fill the vacant seat for the remainder of this year.

“This was a very important issue to Rep. Manning,” Hambley said, of the eminent domain legislation. “It’s a real testament to understanding the needs of his district and his willingness to protect the needs of property owners and public benefit.”

Manning introduced a bill last summer that would have revised state law to prevent the government from using eminent domain for a recreational trail. The bill came to be after Manning heard about constituents in Mahoning County that were facing eminent domain lawsuits filed by Mill Creek MetroParks.

The park district wanted to extend a bike path and sought permanent easements for a former railroad bed. The proposed bike path would split some area farms, leaving acres landlocked. Municipal and recreation groups from across the state spoke out against the bill.

This new legislation is more focused, Hambley said. It doesn’t take away the power of eminent domain, but it does give landowners another avenue to have their objections heard and gives local government power to intervene.

Under the current law, if the property owner wants to protest eminent domain being used for a recreational trail, they can object, first, to the park district board that ordered the taking. Then they can go to the probate judge that appointed the unelected park district board.

Also, the new legislation would allow landowners to go to the local government — the board of trustees or city council — with their complaints. It also gives the local government the power to veto the property taking.

Hambley is a former Medina County commissioner and Brunswick city councilman. He’s had to use eminent domain before in those roles.

“It really is a fearful power of the government to go and take somebody’s land” Hambley said. “it should have a number of safeguards.”

Bringing in the local government may also push the park districts to work more closely with local officials on land use plans, Hambley said.

HB 476 was assigned to the state and local government committee. Hambley hopes to get more hearings scheduled for the bill soon.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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