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Hearing Continued to January on Pipeline Across Preserved Farmland
Ohio Ag Connection - 11/24/2021

The Union County Common Pleas Court scheduled half a day to hear a case on whether Columbia Gas of Ohio can put a natural gas pipeline through preserved farmland.

But before the hearing got started this past week, it was clear a half day would not be enough. Instead of a straightforward case to establish the need for a pipeline and fair compensation for landowners, the case involves land already bound by an agricultural easement and landowners who have no interest in negotiating a price.

Judge Mark O'Connor and attorneys for both sides started the day by agreeing to continue the hearing on Jan. 7.

The dispute between Columbia Gas and the farm owners began in December 2019 when the utility notified them of plans to build a pipeline across their land.

The land is protected from non-farm development with an agricultural easement. The previous landowner, Arno Renner, donated the easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture in 2003, giving up development rights worth more than $1 million. Renner died in 2007 and, now, part of the land is held in a family trust, with Arno's nephew, Don Bailey, as trustee.

Two other parcels of the preserved farm are now owned by Charles Renner, who is also Arno's nephew, and Patrick Bailey, Don's son.

The ODA, which holds the agricultural easement, has not opposed construction of the pipeline through the preserved farmland. The Ohio Power Siting Board approved the project in August 2020, but construction cannot proceed until Columbia Gas secures easements for the entire route. To acquire the easements, Columbia Gas filed appropriation -- eminent domain -- lawsuits against the owners of the preserved farmland.

The court must determine if Columbia Gas has the right to appropriate easements and whether there is a necessity. Before the appropriation cases were filed, the landowners filed a mandamus case against the ODA. That case asks the court to order the ODA to do its duty and enforce the terms of the agricultural easement.

The case was filed in Union County but has been transferred to the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The landowners had also filed a case in Union County seeking an injunction to prevent Columbia Gas from constructing the pipeline on their property.

That case was dismissed by the landowners, although it could be filed again. The judge excused ODA from the proceedings.

However, Fred Dailey, former ODA director, will wait until January to be called as a witness. During his time as director, he oversaw the creation of the farmland preservation office and the agricultural easement program. He also defended the Renner/Bailey farm's agricultural easement in 2005 when Marysville proposed putting a sewer line across the protected farmland.

The hearing attracted a variety of spectators interested in the outcome of the case, including area farmers and representatives of land trusts around the state.


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