State ordered to pay farmer near St. Marys Lake for easement

Ohio’s third district court of appeals reaffirmed a trial court’s verdict that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources owes a Celina-area farmer more than $515,000 for an easement for land damaged by flooding from a spillway for Grand Lake St. Marys.
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Ohio’s third district court of appeals reaffirmed a trial court’s verdict that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources owes a Celina-area farmer more than $515,000 for an easement for land damaged by flooding from a spillway for Grand Lake St. Marys.

Court of appeals: ODNR tried to ‘undermine’ original offer for land

Ohio’s third district court of appeals has affirmed a jury’s verdict that the state owes a Celina-area farmer more than $515,000 for a permanent easement after flooding from a redesigned spillway for Grand Lake St. Marys covered most of his farm.

The court issued its ruling this week following a May decision in Mercer County Common Pleas Court that came to the same conclusion. The decision comes after years of litigation and a previous Ohio Supreme Court decision stating the state agency needed to pay 80 landowners for property affected by flooding from a redesigned spillway.

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In 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources made a “good-faith offer” of $363,100 to Nelda Thomas for land affected by the spillway near Grand Lake St. Marys. After the offer though, ODNR had Thomas’s land reappraised. The reappraisal would have lowered the amount Thomas was originally offered down to $238,000 instead, according to court documents.

While ODNR officials said the more recent appraisal was based on new information, the third district court of appeals disagreed and called the organization’s wish to base compensation on a lower appraisal “an attempt purely to undermine the ‘good-faith’ offer.”

“It would be absurd… to allow an appropriating agency to just repeatedly attempt to introduce new, lower appraisals based on no new information,” the panel of judges wrote in their unanimous opinion.

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Stephanie Leis, a public information officer for ODNR, said the department is reviewing the court’s decision and will not comment on the litigation. In the past, ODNR officials said they would negotiate a settlement with the landowner if their appeal was unsuccessful, said Bruce Ingram, a Columbus lawyer who originally represented the 80 property owners whose land flooded.

Ingram praised the court’s ruling and said that after four years the legal battle has finally “come to an end.”

“ODNR needs to go back to its job of protecting the natural resources of the state rather than pursuing trench warfare against law-abiding, tax-paying citizens,” Ingram said.