While bids are expected to be opened soon for a new Maumee River bridge in Napoleon, a local couple continues their fight against the project.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is scheduled to open bids for the new bridge Thursday, but one family still has two court cases going involving the project.
The estimated $13 million project would construct a new eight-span bridge that is 950 feet long, connecting Industrial Drive to State Route 110 near the Campbell Soup Supply Co. facility. The project would also include the construction of 700 feet of additional road on the south end to connect the bridge to Rte. 110 and a roundabout on each end of the bridge to tie into Rte. 110 and County Road 424.
However, private property needed to be obtained for the project, and two local landowners say they would prefer if county residents had a say in whether the project is needed or not.
Todd and Paula Rettig have filed cases in Henry County Common Pleas Court and the U.S. federal court in Toledo aimed at stopping the project. They have land on the northern bank of the Maumee River near Industrial Drive they say they had plans for, and this project will harm those plans. The land they would be losing is just under an acre, but part of a larger portion.
“I originally bought this land 20 years ago when my first son was born,” said Todd Rettig. “Right away, I put half in my name and half in his name, with the intentions that someday he’d have a place to build a house on the river.”
Over the last 20 years, Rettig said he’s been using the land in conjunction with his dump truck business to fill in places and build it up for later building.
He added about 15 years ago he received a letter from ODOT about the possibility of a new bridge being built in Napoleon, but at that time there were four possible locations being considered.
“I never thought for a minute they’d put it here,” Todd Rettig said.
They also say the bridge is more a benefit for the Campbell Soup Supply Co. rather than a traffic necessity for the city or county.
“It’s turned from a bridge that was a necessity for Napoleon to a bridge that’s a perk for Campbell Soup,” Todd Rettig said.
He and his wife Paula say their land, nor anyone else’s, should be forcibly taken to benefit a private corporation.
They also say they have nothing against the soup maker, and, in fact, Todd worked there for five years. They encourage efforts to help Campbell’s, as well as other parts of the local economy, but not in this manner.
“Don’t take someone’s land,” said Paula Rettig. “We have five children, and we had a plan. There was going to be a riverfront lot for each of our children.”
Todd added they planned on giving the land to their children as wedding gifts one day.
Paula also said while the land being taken from them is less than an acre, it “destroys the entire integrity of that piece.”
The couple has been offered $34,000 for the piece of property needed, but they say money isn’t the issue.
“We don’t want to sell that land,” Paula said. “They could offer us $5 million and I don’t think we’d sell it.”
Their federal lawsuit does seek $500,000 and punitive damages.
They also point to possible environmental impacts of a new bridge. Todd said there are two bald eagle nests in the area, and geese nest on an island in the river in the spring. He fears those may disappear.
“All of this can be prevented,” Paula added. “If they have to have this bridge, move it down to County Road 12.”
Two cases in Henry County Common Pleas Court were decided in favor of Henry County and the project, but the Rettigs have appealed to the Third District Court of Appeals. The case in federal court seems to be delayed until the local case is decided.
“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,” wrote Henry County Common Pleas Court Judge John Collier in his ruling.
Collier also then dismissed a counterclaim filed by the Rettigs.