CELINA — Ohio’s Third District Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury verdict awarding more than $515,000 in compensation to a Celina-area farmer after flooding damage from a redesigned spillway at Grand Lake St. Marys covered nearly 90 percent of his property.
In a 64-page unanimous opinion, the three-judge panel ruled that the Mercer County Common Pleas Court properly excluded new appraisals by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that were significantly less than the original offer of compensation made in 2012. One such appraisal was more than $300,000 less than the original “good-faith” offer.
ODNR’s good-faith offer of $363,100 to Nelda and Gale Thomas, the defendants in this case, was lowered after the organization reappraised the land. The reappraisal would have lowered the amount to $238,000.
The Appeals Court stated it would be “absurd” to allow ODNR to “just repeatedly attempt to introduce new, lower appraisals based on no ‘new’ information that had occurred since filing the appropriation petition in an attempt purely to undermine the ‘good-faith offer’ that initiated the action.”
Bruce Ingram, a Columbus attorney who represented nearly 80 landowners in the original Supreme Court action, applauded the decision.
“ODNR’s attempts to subvert the Supreme Court have finally come to an end,” Ingram said in a press release. “As the trial court stated, ‘[t]his is a case to protect private citizens from the tyranny of the government and you can’t manipulate the system to change the rules in the middle of the stream and punish a property owner who relied on what the government said they were going to pay them for taking their property.’”
Ingram said the ODNR spent millions of dollars paying private attorneys to pursue “junk science,” undermine the Supreme Court’s decision and “wear out our clients with endless appeals and delays.”
“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.
A public information officer for ODNR stated in an email that the organization is reviewing the court’s decision and will not comment on ongoing legal matters.
The case stems from a 1997 project by ODNR to enlarge a spillway on the western edge of Grand Lake St. Marys near Celina. Property owners near the lake argued successfully that the project affected their properties through more frequent, severe and longer-lasting floods. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the landowners were entitled to compensation from the ODNR.
Ingram said that, in the past, ODNR has stated it would negotiate a settlement with landowners if their appeal was unsuccessful.
“We hope that is still the case,” he said.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima