Trail issue does not belong in budget bill

Eminent domain long has been the method used by governmental bodies to ensure their attempts to provide essential public services for a greater community are not blocked by a limited number of property owners.

Of course, another points of contention when government attempts to take someone’s land are the compensation offered and whether the intended use really is “public use.” Those decisions generally became judicial battles — until now.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, is taking aim at the use of eminent domain by attempting to pass legislation to ban temporarily government from invoking eminent domain for creation of a recreational trail.

Cutrona last week inserted language into the Ohio House version of the state budget bill prohibiting a park district in a county the size of Mahoning from using eminent domain to establish a recreational trail.

The legislation specifically targets Mill Creek MetroParks’ efforts to acquire rights of way from landowners to complete the third section of the MetroParks bikeway.

Frankly, we understand both sides of the issue.

Some would argue this is America, and property rights never should be forfeited to government.

Others likely would argue that a handful of uncooperative property owners should never hold up a project for the greater good.

But in the case at hand, the primary question is whether green space created for recreational use should warrant use of eminent domain.

As of right now — at least until the legislation passes — that question is in the hands of the courts.

Salem property owner Diane M. Less and the metroparks have been in litigation since early 2019 when the metroparks filed legal action in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court seeking to acquire a right of way for the bikeway on her property.

Less sought to have the litigation dismissed, claiming the metroparks lacked authority to acquire the right of way.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney ruled in favor of the metroparks. That matter has been appealed to the 7th District Court of Appeals.

Indeed, the controversial issue has been debated heavily for many years, and it probably will be for many more years to come.

Frankly, we aren’t prepared to offer an opinion on this very complex matter at this time.

What we do know, however, is that the merits of the legislation and Cutrona’s attempts to wade into the debate are being overshadowed by two things — the vehicle Cutrona is using to push the issue, along with the narrow language he is using.

We believe both of these issues are very problematic.

Aaron Young, executive director of the Mill Creek MetroParks, said of Cutrona’s proposal, “We are certainly disappointed Rep. Cutrona would use the state budget process to try to bring the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway to a halt.”

We agree. We don’t believe the state’s budget bill should be used as the vehicle to gain passage of this very specific and very localized issue.

Also, items attached to a bill should have a direct link, but what directly link exists between local use of eminent domain for a bike path and the state’s budget?

Further, the language of the bill is so narrow that Ohioans would be hard-pressed to find another area of the state to which the language also could apply.

Young also said it is “readily apparent” the language was crafted to harm the attempt to build the third phase of the bikeway.

We believe statewide legislation never should be written so narrowly that it becomes applicable to only one Ohio issue or community.

This bill’s language limits application of the law to counties of 220,000 to 240,000 people as reported in the most recent available federal decennial census. Mahoning County’s population was 238,787 during the 2010 census and was estimated at 228,683 in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. It also limits the types of trails that would be affected by the bill.

Cutrona admits the provision is intended to help his local constituency “facing a lot of issues with bike trails.”

If Cutrona feels so strongly about the impact of this issue on his constituency, then he should have presented it as a separate piece of legislation to be debated and voted on independent of the state budget bill.

That would have been the more appropriate course of action.



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