Union Co. farmer sues ODA over pipeline on preserved farmland

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A Union County farmer is suing the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Columbia Gas of Ohio over a natural gas pipeline that is set to go through preserved farmland.

Attorneys for the Bailey family filed two lawsuits July 12 to force the department of agriculture to defend its land from the pipeline and to stop Columbia Gas of Ohio from moving forward with eminent domain proceedings.

The first lawsuit claims the Ohio Department of Agriculture is not enforcing the terms of the agriculture easement, which prohibits any industrial activity from taking place on the farm, like installing a utility line, unless it is strictly for the benefit of the farm.

ODA issue

Don Bailey is the successor trustee for the Arno Renner Trust. Renner was Bailey’s uncle, and he donated the agricultural easement to his 231-acre farm in 2003 to the department of agriculture, through its farmland preservation program.

Columbia Gas of Ohio announced plans in late 2019 to put a 12-inch gas distribution line through the Baileys’ fields. The Marysville Connector Pipeline Project would stretch nearly 5 miles to feed the industrial park near the farm, as well as a nearby residential development.

Instead of defending the terms of the easement, the Ohio Department of Agriculture recused itself from the Ohio Power Siting Board decision on the pipeline in order to prevent the “perception of impropriety.” The pipeline was approved in August 2020.

In two prior cases, the state went to bat for the Bailey farm when it faced the threat of utility development. In 2005, the city of Marysville wanted to put a 72-inch sanitary sewer line through the farm. The state director of agriculture at the time, Fred Dailey, wrote a letter to the mayor of Marysville asking if the line could be rerouted, and it was.

The second time was in 2008, when a private developer wanted to put a 36-inch water line through the farm. In that case, then Ohio Attorney General Nancy Rogers issued an opinion that the easement language prevented the construction of such a line because the “proposed water line would not solely serve the Bailey property.”

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has taken a different approach to the easement in the case of the Marysville Connector Pipeline. It focused on how the pipeline would impact the agricultural use of the property, and it found that the agricultural use of the farm would not be irreparably harmed by the pipeline.

Eminent domain

Columbia Gas of Ohio notified Bailey and his co-plaintiffs, Charles Renner and Pat Bailey, in June of its intent to acquire easements for the pipeline. The Bailey and Renner families requested on July 7 that the ODA issue a cease and desist letter to Columbia Gas, but the ODA declined to do so, according to a press release from the families’ attorneys.

The second lawsuit asks for an injunction prohibiting the installation of the pipeline on the farm and a declaration that the ag easement, Ohio law and federal law prohibit the installation of the pipeline on the protected property.

It also asks for a “declaration that public policy and the law require the terms of the ag easement be strictly construed to benefit the preservation of farmland.”

The lawsuits point out that, until recently, agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda’s husband was a registered lobbyist for Columbia Gas of Ohio.

The department of agriculture declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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

Related content:

Pipeline projects pits Union County family against state

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