City of Sidney v. Spring Creek Corporation

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Shelby County, No. 17-17-07, December 4, 2017: Easement not a valid Ohio conservation easement.

The City of Sidney (“Sidney”) began an eminent domain action against Washington Township (“the Township”) and Spring Creek Corporation (“Spring Creek”) for land owned by Spring Creek that sit above part of a large aquifer which provides water for the Township’s residents. Previously, Spring Creek had granted a purported conservation easement on the property to Sidney when the parties couldn’t agree on a sale of the property.

In the eminent domain action, Sidney asserted that the conservation easement was invalid because its purpose and language were contrary to public policy and Ohio law. The trial court agreed with Sidney and Spring Creek appealed.

Although the easement’s purpose is stated, in part, as, “retain, respect, and preserve the Aquifer area … predominantly in its current, natural condition,” the easement also permitted mining and mineral extraction by two methods. Both methods involve clearing the land and substantial disturbance of the land.

The court noted that the meaning of the term “conservation easement” as codified in Ohio R.C. 5301.67(A) is, in part, “an incorporeal right or interest in land that is held for the public purpose of retaining land, water, or wetland areas predominantly in their natural, scenic, open, or wooded condition … or retaining their use predominantly as suitable habitat for fish, plants, or wildlife….”

The court held that the easement at issue is not a conservation easement because its provisions “make clear that it is not intended to preserve the property predominantly in its natural condition.”

Decision available at http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/3/2017/2017-Ohio-8785.pdf.

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