Appeals Court upholds decisions in MWCD assessment cases
December 29, 2008
Judges of the 5th District Court of Appeals have agreed with the decisions of a lower court that permit assessments of property owners by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) to fund a plan of maintenance and rehabilitation in the system of reservoirs and dams in the Muskingum River Watershed.
The appeals court affirmed the decisions of the Conservancy Court and held that the appraisal methodology was reasonable and that all procedural and due process requirements had been met. The Conservancy Court holds jurisdiction over the MWCD and is a court of common pleas that consists of one judge from each of the 18 counties in the conservancy district region.
"We are pleased by the decision and we'll do our best to uphold the public's trust in administering the maintenance plan," said John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary. "We're looking forward to getting the maintenance projects started as soon as possible."
The MWCD's maintenance plan will protect and create hundreds of private-sector jobs in upcoming years and lead to the potential investment of more than $600 million by the federal government in the watershed, Hoopingarner said. The watershed - which drains the region of Ohio where runoff stormwater drains into the Muskingum River before emptying into the Ohio River at Marietta - is the largest in the state.
The 5th District Court of Appeals decisions denied the claims filed by property owners David L. Blackwell, Joseph R. Carlisle Jr., the Dean F. Levengood Revocable Trust, Scott Levengood, the Tripodi Family Trust, N. Kathryn Walker and Anthony B. Zadra. Blackwell, the Levengoods, Tripodi and Zadra own property in Tuscarawas County, Carlisle owns property in Carroll County and Walker's property is located in Stark County.
The appellate court wrote in its rulings that "we fail to find where and how (the property owners) have not been accorded every substantial consideration of their rights of due process of law." The property owners challenged the MWCD's authority to levy assessments, which are provided for in the Ohio law that deals with conservancy districts.
The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state of Ohio, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, leading to the construction of 14 reservoirs and dams several years later. The MWCD is a partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the operation of the system of dams and reservoirs in the watershed, as the USACE operates the dams and the MWCD manages most of the reservoir areas behind the dams.
Since their construction, the dams and reservoirs have prevented more than $7 billion worth of property damage from flooding, according to the USACE.
The USACE has said that it could spend up to $621 million on maintenance and rehabilitation at four dams - Beach City, Bolivar, Dover and Mohawk - and Zoar levee to address safety concerns over the next several years beginning in 2009. Federal law requires a non-federal local sponsor to pay a portion of the costs on these projects. The MWCD will serve as the local sponsor for the projects, with its share of the total cost ranging from an estimated $93.2 million to $123.1 million. The MWCD will pay for its share - along with other identified maintenance projects at the reservoirs and in the watershed - through the assessment of property owners in the watershed pursuant to Ohio law.
Nearly 500,000 parcels of property are subject to the assessment, which is projected to generate about $10.3 million annually, with nearly 94 percent of all property owners paying the minimum assessment of $12 per year. The assessments are collected as part of a property owner's real estate tax statements prepared by county auditors and treasurers.
The 18 counties wholly or partially contained in the MWCD jurisdiction are Ashland, Belmont, Carroll, Coshocton, Guernsey, Holmes, Harrison, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Wayne and Washington.
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