Two rulings issued Tuesday in Henry County Common Pleas Court in an eminent domain case related to a proposed new river bridge in the city were in favor of the Henry County commissioners, but a federal case remains pending.
On Nov. 16, a civil action was filed by the commissioners for appropriation of .7857 acre of land along East Riverview Avenue against Todd A. Rettig, custodian of the property under the Ohio Transfers to Minors Act. The vacant land is located on the south side of the East Riverview Avenue and Industrial Drive intersection. The proposed bridge project includes extending Industrial Drive south over the Maumee River to State Route 110. As part of the project, a new right-of-way would be established across this property for Industrial Drive and remove .7857 net acres of land.
Rettig filed a counterclaim, alleging the bridge is an abuse of the eminent domain power by the commissioners and that the proposed bridge is not for a public purpose.
The county then filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaim, and Henry County Common Pleas Court Judge John Collier Tuesday dismissed the counterclaim, stating that while Rettig may have a point the proposed river bridge would be a benefit to Campbell Soup Co., the bridge would also link two public roadways, be a benefit to truck drivers who deliver to Campbell Soup and reduce traffic congestion on State Route 108, which runs through downtown Napoleon, all of which was confirmed by a Mannick Smith Group traffic study that demonstrated a public safety benefit.
“The Mannick and Smith traffic study and the review of the Ohio Department of Transportation would support this is a project with a public purpose and not for the exclusive use of a commercial enterprise,” Collier ruled.
Collier also denied a motion filed by Rettig’s attorney that sought to dismiss the appropriation petition. The motion argued the existence of a bald eagle nest in the area of the project was not included in the initial property description and that any change in the legal description would change the corresponding value of the real estate.
Collier referred to testimony given during depositions by Christopher Owen, an employee of Mannick and Smith who was responsible for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act compliance of the project, and Henry County Engineer Tim Schumm, who stated the only impact of the nest would be spacing and timing issues during construction.
“There is no testimony which would indicate the legal description of the property being appropriated would change, but only when certain construction activities may be prohibited within certain distances during particular times of the year,” Collier stated in the ruling, adding there is no evidence to support the nest would nullify the legal description.
Henry County Assistant Prosecutor Katie Nelson, who is representing the county commissioners in the case, said the ruling brings the case back to the original petition by the county, which is to appropriate the property. That original petition stated both sides were unable to reach an agreement for the sale of the property. The offer from the county was for $34,400, including $27,500 for real property and $6,900 for damages to the surrounding property which is not acquired.
Nelson said the next step would be for a jury to determine the value of the property the county would pay to Rettig in compensation for the appropriation. However, she said Rettig has 30 days to file an appeal. If an appeal is filed, the case would go to the Third District Court for a decision.
Todd and Paula Rettig have also filed a case in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging the eminent domain claim, and that lawsuit was filed against the Henry County commissioners and Campbell Soup Co. The Rettigs allege the eminent domain claim violates the state constitution, saying the new bridge will “serve no other purpose other than to create an exclusive ‘driveway’ for defendant Campbell Soup Supply Co.” The plaintiffs asked for a jury trial and are seeking $500,000, an injunction to prevent the county from proceeding with any eminent domain action until this case is resolved, punitive damages and attorney fees.
Nelson said there is a motion pending in the federal case from Rettig’s attorneys seeking to amend their original complaint and she has filed a reply asking for the motion to be denied, but there has been no movement in the case since May.