Ohio Supreme Court orders ODNR to show progress in compensating landowners


Updated Oct. 31, at 2 p.m. The amicus brief filed by Ohio Farm Bureau Federation was filed in August 2010 in support of the landowners, but was not connected to the Sept. 2012 filing for contempt of court. The organization says “there have been no further legal filings from Farm Bureau on this matter, but it is our view today that compensation has not been timely.”

SALEM, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered the Department of Natural Resources to appear Dec. 4, to present its case for why it should not be found in contempt of court regarding the compensation of flood-damaged land in Mercer County.

Attorneys representing the farmers — about 87 landowners total — filed for contempt of court Sept. 6, after seeing insufficient progress in fulfilling a December of 2011 order by the Supreme Court that the landowners must be fairly compensated.

“Our clients are very pleased that the supreme court has summoned Director (James) Zehringer to appear before the court and explain why it (ODNR) hasn’t complied with the order it (the court) issued a year ago,” said Bruce Ingram, legal counsel with Vorys law office of Columbus.

Long-term damage. The flood damage stems from a spillway constructed on Grand Lake St. Marys in 1997, which expanded the spillway from 39 feet to 500. Ingram said the state had offered landowners $5,000 an acre, before recently removing that offer.

ODNR has argued that it is on schedule with surveying the land and making negotiations for compensation.

“The motion from the plaintiff’s lawyers is wholly without merit and we are looking forward to the opportunity to explain that to the court,” wrote Bethany McCorkle, interim chief of communications for ODNR.

But Ingram said the fact the high court is willing to hear the matter, suggests things aren’t moving along as they should.

“If they were complying with the court’s order, I don’t think we’d be having this hearing in December,” he said.

Work to do. He said about six of the landowners have seen action on their property, with all 87 still waiting for compensation.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation filed an amicus brief in August 2010 with the court, arguing in favor of compensation for the land owners.

“We generally oppose the abuse of eminent domain, but when eminent domain is necessary, the landowners should get fair compensation in a timely manner,” said Joe Cornely, director of communications for OFBF.

He said the case has been active for years, and that it was obvious that the settlement has not been timely.

“If a property is taken, then compensation should be fair and timely,” he said.

McCorkle declined to comment on when an appropriate time for compensation might be.

Ingram said many of the landowners are senior citizens and some have begun to reach the end of life.

He said he’s been accused of pushing the issue for the law firm’s benefit.

“Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. “We want justice for our clients who have suffered substantial damage to their property for 15 years. They’re the people that deserve to be compensated.”

Related coverage: Ohio court orders state to compensate owners for ‘taking’ land.

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