Attorneys for Union County farm families filed two lawsuits on July 12 to protect the farmland from eminent domain for the construction of a commercial gas pipeline.
Don Bailey, Successor Trustee to Arno L. Renner, Charles Renner and Patrick and Whitney Bailey, successor landowners and operators of lands preserved by the Arno L. Renner Trust and over which Arno Renner donated an Agricultural Easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture in 2003 filed the lawsuits in Union County Common Pleas Court.
1) ask for a writ of mandamus to the ODA, the holder of the Ag Easement, to enforce its terms, and 2) seek injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment against Columbia Gas of Ohio who seeks to acquire commercial gas pipeline easements to construct the Marysville Connector.
The mandamus action also includes the Union Soil and Water Conservation District due to its responsibility to monitor and report violations of the Ag Easement to ODA. The Union SWCD has taken the position that the terms of the Ag Easement prohibit non-farm commercial/industrial utility construction, including the proposed gas pipeline.
In 2003, Arno Renner and the Arno Renner Trust donated the Ag Easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to ensure that the land would remain forever in agriculture. Several terms of the easement, if enforced by ODA, would prevent the construction of the commercial/industrial natural gas pipeline proposed by Columbia Gas. On July 7, 2021, the landowners requested that ODA enforce the easement and issue a cease and desist letter to Columbia Gas of Ohio. ODA declined to do so per a letter written to the landowners’ legal counsel.
“We’re concerned that once one utility is allowed to go through, it is a natural corridor for all utilities to start going through. Since it is preserved as farmland, the value of it is much less than the commercial value of the land across the road. It is the cheapest place for utilities to go through. That is what we are afraid of. If the State won’t defend it, preserved land will be targeted for that particular reason,” Don Bailey said. “This is not just about us. Right now I could not recommend to another farmer that they give their easement to the state. I’d hate to see that because this is a good program and people have invested a lot of time and money in it. Many farm owners want a way to preserve their farm. It is disheartening to see this. If there are no teeth in the easement, then the program is dead.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for those who would like to donate funding to help the Baileys with legal costs in this high stakes case for the future of farmland preservation in Ohio. There is precedent for protecting the land in the Renner easement.
On Aug. 13, 2008, then Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers issued an opinion reviewing the easement and determined that its terms would prevent the construction of a commercial utility pipeline project such as the proposed Marysville Connector on the Arno Renner Ag Easement land. The current ODA administration believes the opposite, contrary to prior enforcement decisions of ODA and the Ohio Attorney General.
If granted, a Writ of Mandamus would require ODA to enforce the terms of the Ag Easement and take action to prevent the Columbia Gas pipeline. The farms preserved by the Ag Easement are 120.9 and 110.25 acres, respectively. If constructed as proposed, the “permanent” utility line easements sought by Columbia Gas from the landowners would be 1.81acres and 4.531 acres respectively, and also a take of “perpetual” yet “temporary” construction easements that would impact an additional .909 acres and 2.143 +/- acres respectively. Total impacted Ag Easement acreage would be 9.39 +/- acres.
The affected farms are located on Adelsberger Road near Industrial Parkway in Marysville.