Should eminent domain be used to secure land for recreation trails?

COLUMBUS — Representatives for local Ohio metroparks and other interested groups testified against legislation that would prohibit eminent domain from being used for the purpose of building recreational trails.

Opponents of House Bill 288 say the proposed law is too broad and that the state should not get involved in what is usually considered a local issue.

The legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, classifies a trail as recreational if it is made for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, ski touring, canoeing or other non-motorized forms of recreational travel. Eminent domain would still be permitted for other recreational purposes, such as parks, and non-recreational trails, such as roads.

The bill was proposed in response to some local residents opposed to their local governments seizing their land for the construction of a trail. There has been a lot of local backlash to the proposed expansion of the Lake to River trail by Mill Creek Parks.

“I have a strong belief in private property rights and a proven track record as well, including public recognition from landowner groups as their advocate,” Sean Logan, an Ohio resident and former Democratic member of the Ohio state legislature, testified in front of the committee.

“I also have been forthright that there remains a delicate balance when eminent domain is even contemplated, let alone used, but should be available for unique situations. [The Lake to River Trail] is one of those situations.”

Although Logan said that eminent domain should only be used in rare circumstances, he thinks it is an important tool when those circumstances arise. He said these circumstances sometimes include public recreation, such as trails.

Larry Peck, deputy director of Columbus and Franklin County Metroparks, said measure could prevent the completion of current trails and the construction of trails that have already been approved.

“Having the absentee owner or just one holdout may impact projects that have been in the works for years with millions of dollars involved and invested,” Peck said.

Eminent domain should be used as a last resort, Peck added, but sometimes it is necessary. Rather than having the state decide unilaterally, he said that residents can decide for themselves through local elections.

Brian Zimmerman, CEO of Cleveland Metroparks, also testified against the legislation. Although he did not want to speak about some of the local conflicts, he said that these decisions are generally decided after long-term planning and substantial input from the community. Although some property owners will object, he said there are remedies to resolve those situations.

About three weeks ago, supporters of this reform testified in front of the committee. Generally, the supporters were property owners whose businesses or homes would be harmed by the construction of various recreational trails.

By Tyler Arnold

The Center Square

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon