Proposed extension would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River through four counties
By Justin Dennis
Mill Creek MetroParks commissioners since November have filed nine eminent domain lawsuits seeking to acquire private property for construction of a bike trail – and parks officials suggest there will be more.
Diane Less, a Green Township resident named an interested party in one of those suits, said the battle between the MetroParks and her and her neighbors who have, up to this point, rejected the parks’ land purchase proposals, is a protracted one. The MetroParks board passed a resolution in February 1993, stating “the public interest demanded the construction of a bicycle path,” according to the suits.
“It is theft. It is the equivalent to having a robber putting a gun to your head and telling you to hand over your property,” she said. “How would you like it if someone came to you and said, ‘I am taking your land and I do not care if you do not want to sell it. Too bad.’”
Though Less is not named a defendant in the most recent suits, she and others have fended off multiple proposals from the MetroParks since a series of public hearings years ago when the MetroParks announced it intended to acquire about 4.5 miles between Green Township and Washingtonville for the trail.
The parks’ proposal would split 6 acres of “beautiful, wooded property” from Less’ South Range Road property – one of several Green Township parcels included in the most recent suits – with an about 65-foot wide swath for the proposed trail, she said. She would also lose access to state Route 165, she said.
A suit filed in November against Michael Cameron seeks to split the West Pine Lake dairy farm his family has owned for more than 100 years in half, Less said.
Less is also the director and co-founder of Angels for Animals in Canfield.
Across from Less’ property, the family farm of former U.S. Rep. James Traficant – now owned by his daughter Elizabeth Chahine, who’s named in a February suit – would lose a mile as well as access to Middletown Road.
“I cannot and don’t speak for all the landowners, but I am very comfortable saying that we are being treated like squatters on our own land,” Less said.
“We own this property. It is ours. It is as if we are a nuisance because we won’t just let [the MetroParks] take our property.”
Four defendants have filed responses to the MetroParks suits and disputed the parks’ petitions – including the fair market value amounts offered for the properties, ranging from as low as $300 to about $63,000 – and called for dismissals or jury trials. Others have not been served, according to court records.
Steve Avery, planning and operations director for the MetroParks, said the compensation amounts are based on appraisals from O.R. Colan Associates of North Carolina and reviewed by independent, state-certified appraisers.
The proposed bike path, the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway, would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River through four counties, beginning at the lake in Ashtabula County, spanning Trumbull and Mahoning counties then ending at the Ohio River in East Liverpool in Columbiana County.
About three-quarters of the trail was finished in the project’s first two phases, Avery said.
The third phase would span 6.4 miles through Mahoning County from West Western Reserve Road to Washingtonville Village – 4.5 lineal miles of which must still be acquired “in whatever fashion,” he said.
Construction is expected to begin in 2020 or 2021, Avery said.
Though Avery said nearly all of Mahoning County’s portion of the bike path would be built along historic, abandoned Erie Lackawanna railway lines, Less said the proposed path deviates at several points. She questions why the MetroParks wouldn’t plot the course along Washingtonville Road, when the plotted Western Reserve Road is only 50 feet away.
“I even offered to give [The MetroParks] property that I own along Washingtonville Road if they would just leave me alone on the rest of my farm,” she said.
“I sure wouldn’t give them anything for free now.”