Tuesday, June 11, 2019
By Justin Dennis
The Ohio House could soon consider a bill intended to stop private property seizures to build a Mill Creek MetroParks bicycle trail.
State Rep. Don Manning of New Middletown, R-59th, said he plans to introduce legislation Monday to stop the state from appropriating land for recreational purposes, including bike trails, through eminent domain powers granted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Manning said his April meetings with Green Township-area landowners facing several suits filed by the MetroParks ahead of planned bike trail construction are what prompted the bill.
“Eminent domain for a bike trail, to me, appears like nothing less than tyranny,” he said. “I can’t sit back and let them do that without a fight. This will prevent the state from taking or stealing that land from people.”
He added the bill wouldn’t stop landowners from voluntarily selling or otherwise turning over parcels.
Manning said the bill gained eight co-sponsors within an hour of his sending out a call to fellow legislators June 6.
After meeting with landowners facing eminent domain suits, Manning took their concerns to a meeting with MetroParks officials and offered to mediate between the groups. He said Aaron Young, MetroParks executive director, told him the MetroParks previously had reached out to landowners, but nobody wanted to meet.
Manning said park officials implied, “The time for talking is over. We’re going to take this land.”
Though sued landowners and Manning suggested finding alternate routes less impactful to private property, Young told The Vindicator on Monday the engineering work to determine the best possible route – which cost the MetroParks hundreds of thousands of dollars – has long been completed. A file of proposed trail maps and drawings is packed 2-inches thick, he said.
Young said parks officials tried to explain to Manning that realigning the route now would mean starting some of the already decades-long project over.
Though some landowners have told The Vindicator they previously offered the MetroParks less burdensome parcels and were rebuffed, Young said he couldn’t confirm, as those offers likely were made before he became executive director, as was the trail’s alignment.
Manning said the bill comes with an emergency clause, meaning it jumps the line ahead of other pending bills, and if passed, it would take effect immediately upon the governor’s signing.
He said those interested in voicing their support for the bill can submit proponent testimony to the Ohio House subcommittee that will ultimately receive the bill after it’s introduced.