Lawyers for Union County farm families filed two lawsuits on July 12 to protect prominent estate farmland for the construction of a commercial gas pipeline.
Don Bailey, successor trustee of Arno L. Renner, Charles Renner and Patrick and Whitney Bailey, successor owners and operators of land preserved by the Arno L. Renner Trust and on which Arno Renner has donated an agricultural easement to the Ministry of Ohio Agriculture in 2003 filed the lawsuits in Union County Common Pleas Court.
1) seek a writ of mandamus from the ODA, the holder of the agricultural easement, to enforce its terms, and 2) seek an injunction and declaratory judgment against Columbia Gas of Ohio seeking to acquire commercial gas pipeline easements for build the Marysville Connector.
The action in mandamus also includes the Union Soil and Water Conservation District due to its responsibility to monitor and report violations of the agricultural easement to the ODA. The SWCD Union has taken the position that the conditions of the agricultural easement prohibit the construction of non-agricultural commercial / industrial utilities, including the proposed pipeline.
In 2003, Arno Renner and the Arno Renner Trust donated the farm easement to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to ensure the land would remain in agriculture forever. Several conditions of the easement, if enforced by the ODA, would prevent construction of the commercial / industrial pipeline proposed by Columbia Gas. On July 7, 2021, the landowners asked the ODA to enforce the easement and issue a cease and desist letter to Columbia Gas of Ohio. The ODA refused to do so in a letter written to the landowners’ legal counsel.
“We are concerned that once a utility is cleared to pass, this is a natural corridor for all utilities to begin to pass. Since it is preserved as agricultural land, its value is much lower than the commercial value of the land across the road. It is the cheapest place for utilities. This is what we are afraid of. If the state does not stand up for it, the preserved lands will be targeted for that particular reason, ”said Don Bailey. “It’s not just about us. At this time, I cannot recommend that another farmer surrender their easement to the Crown. I would hate to see this because it 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’s disheartening to see that. If there are no teeth in the bondage, then the program is dead.
A The GoFundMe page has been created for those who wish to donate to help the Baileys cover legal costs. in this high-stakes case for the future of farmland preservation in Ohio. There is precedent for land protection in the Renner Easement.
On August 13, 2008, Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers issued a notice reviewing the easement and determined that its terms would prevent the construction of a utility pipeline project like the Marysville Connector Project on Arno Renner Ag’s easement land. The current ODA administration believes the opposite, unlike previous enforcement decisions by the ODA and the Ohio Attorney General.
If granted, a writ of mandamus would require the ODA to enforce the terms of the farm easement and take action to prevent the Columbia pipeline. The farms preserved by the agricultural easement are 120.9 and 110.25 acres, respectively. If constructed as proposed, the “permanent” utility line easements that Columbia Gas seeks from landowners would be 1.81 acres and 4,531 acres, respectively, along with a “perpetual” construction easement but “Temporary” that would impact an additional 0.909 acres. and 2,143 +/- acres respectively. The total area of the affected agricultural easement would be 9.39 +/- acres.
The affected farms are located on Adelsberger Road near Industrial Parkway in Marysville.