Ohio’s drainage law updates

By Peggy Kirk Hall, director of agricultural law, Ohio State University Agricultural and Resource Law Program

Ohio’s “petition ditch laws” are at last receiving a major revision. The Ohio General Assembly has passed H.B. 340, updating the laws that address the installation and maintenance of drainage works of improvement through the petition process. Some of Ohio’s oldest laws, the drainage laws play a critical role in maintaining surface water drainage on Ohio lands but were in serious need of updating.

An updating process began over seven years ago with the Ohio Drainage Law Task Force convened by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO). CCAO charged the Task Force with the goals of clarifying ambiguous provisions in the law and embracing new technology and processes that would result in greater efficiencies, fewer misunderstandings and reduced legal costs for taxpayers. Task Force members included county commissioners, county engineers and staff, county auditors, Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) professionals, Ohio Farm Bureau staff, and Ohio State University faculty. Rep. Bob Cupp sponsored the resulting H.B. 340, which received unanimous approval from both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Here are a few highlights of the legislation:

• Mirroring the time frames, deadlines, notices, and hearings and appeals procedures for petitions filed with the county engineer and with the county soil and water conservation district.

• The use of technology may substitute for a physical view of a proposed drainage improvement site.

• The minimum width of sod or seeded strips will be 10 feet rather than 4 feet; maximum width remains at 15 feet.

• The entire amount of sod or seeded strips will be removed from the taxable valuation of property, rather than the current provision removing only land in excess of four feet.

• Factors to consider for petition approval are the same for SWCD board of supervisors and county engineers, and include costs versus benefits of the improvement, whether improvement is necessary, conducive to public welfare, will improve water management and development and will aid lands in the area by promoting economic, industrial, environmental or social development.

• Clarification that the lead county in a multi-county petition is the county in which a majority of the initial length of the proposed improvement would exist, and assignment of responsibilities to officials in the lead county.

• The bond amount for county engineer petitions increases to $1,500 plus $5 for each parcel of land in excess of 200 parcels.

• Additional guidance for factors to be considered when determining estimated assessments.

• Current law allows county commissioners to repair an existing drainage improvement upon complaint of an assessed owner if the cost doesn’t exceed $4,000. The new law increases that amount to $24,000 and allows payment of repair assessments in 10 semiannual installments rather than four.

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