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Supreme Court rules ODNR in contempt

By Ty Higgins and Matt Reese

On Dec. 5, the Ohio Supreme Court announced a decision in a contempt hearing over compensating landowners near Grand Lake St. Mary’s. In State ex rel. Doner v. Zehringer, the court ruled that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) was in contempt for failure to comply with a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court last year to compensate farmers, families and business owners along Grand Lake St. Marys whose lands flood during rain storms.

Representing 87 farmers in Mercer County, Vorys, Sater, Seymore and Pease filed the contempt court order against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in early September. This was a move hoping to compel ODNR to comply with the Supreme Court’s previous ruling from 2011.

“The Mercer County landowners’ right to speedy justice has once again been vindicated by the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Bruce Ingram, partner with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease and counsel for Relators. “Ordering the compensation cases to commence in 120 days ends the deliberate foot dragging and delay engaged in by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the past year. The Landowners look forward to their day in court where compensation will finally be awarded for the State’s illegal seizure of their land by 15 years flooding from Grand Lake.”

The reason for this case dates back to 1997, when ODNR installed a horseshoe-shaped dam in the hopes that the lake would become more self-sustaining and no longer require ODNR to drain the lake once a year to prevent flooding.  However, that goal was never realized and the residents and business owners of the area have suffered significant floods almost every year for the last 15 years. Flooding was bad enough to damage crops and temporarily evacuate homes.

The 5-2 decision requires that ODNR take action within 90 days and to file appropriation cases on the same parcels within 120 days.

“We will take all the necessary steps to accelerate the pace at which we are doing exactly what the Ohio Supreme Court asked us to do originally,” said Bethany McCorkle, ODNR’s chief of communications. “ODNR will expedite the process and use all available resources to comply with the court order.”

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