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Friday, September 7th, 2012

Landowners file contempt motion

Attorney says the state is taking too long to compensate them for their flooded land

By Nancy Allen
GRAND LAKE - A group of 87 landowners downstream from Grand Lake on Thursday filed a motion in the Ohio Supreme Court to hold the state in contempt for failing to compensate them for their flooded land in a timely manner.
The court ruled in December that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was required to compensate the landowners for their land being flooded by the larger West Bank spillway that opened in 1997. The spillway releases water from Grand Lake into Beaver Creek.
So far, the state has filed motions for compensation hearings in Mercer County Common Pleas Court for just six of the landowners, said Joe Miller, an attorney with the Columbus law firm representing the landowners.
"In December, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously said our clients were entitled to compensation," Miller said this morning. "At that time, ODNR should have stepped up and properly obeyed the court's order."
Miller said one of his plaintiffs has died and the remaining ones are left wondering if or when they will be compensated.
ODNR replaced the former 39-foot spillway with a 500-foot spillway because a dam study showed the old spillway was in danger of overtopping. The judge in the initial case that involved five farmers never found fault with the state for installing the new structure, saying it was done for the greater good to reduce residential flooding. But the judge noted it was done at the detriment of farmers downstream and that the state should compensate them.
The state "has been flooding their land for 15 years and is counting on it taking 15 more years to pay compensation," Miller wrote in the motion.
He said a settlement offer earlier this year of about $24 million, or about $5,000 per acre, was a charade meant to prevent the landowners from filing their complaint earlier.
Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for ODNR, in a written statement said the state has been preparing to proceed with the cases in the Mercer County court, and many more of the cases will follow soon.
"This action is nothing more than a badly misguided legal strategy pursued by trial lawyers who are angry that the state did not automatically agree to their inflated multi-million dollar settlement demand, and instead are making them work harder," McCorkle said. "We have an obligation to Ohio taxpayers to make sure that each case is valued fairly, and we will carry out that obligation."
Charles Meier has grown soybeans, wheat and corn on 78 acres since he bought his farm in 1976. The spillway has created enormous problems, including floods that have wiped out crops and strewn debris across his property, he said Thursday. His home and barn flooded in 2003.
Meier, 77, of Celina, said the worst thing about the flooding is "being scared how high it's going to come. You never know where it's going to stop."
He has said in court filings he's afraid he won't live long enough for a civil trial to determine how much he should be compensated.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story
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