Putnam County Seal - Putnam Sentinel

OTTAWA — Seven years after the Putnam County Board of Commissioners moved forward with a controversial expansion to Road 5, the commissioners’ office remains embroiled in legal battles over the effort.

Citing concerns about traffic safety, the commissioners moved forward with an expansion of Road 5, an expansion that included the acquisition of ten feet of privately held property on either side of the road via eminent domain.

The controversial improvement incited public debate and a lawsuit in 2012. Plaintiffs in the original suit charged the commissioners with multiple violations of Ohio’s Sunshine Law, bringing into question their use of eminent domain as a means to effect the expansion. A judgement in the matter was found against the commissioners resulting in fines, court costs and attorney fees in excess of $700,000.

Last year, a second suit was brought against the commissioners by 10 plaintiffs: Marilyn Horstman, Marcia Stanton, Michael Nienberg, James Nienberg, John Nienberg, Lisa Stainbrook, Robert and Cynthia Niese and Gretchen and Hubert Plankenhorn. This second suit was filed shortly after the commissioners resolved to accept a Freeholder Petition on Nov. 16, 2015, that retroactively supported the expansion of Road 5.

“I don’t know what the beef is,” Commissioner John Love remarked on Tuesday. Although Love was wary of making any claim as to the intent of the suit, compensation is at the root. After seizing the land, property owners affected by the expansion were compensated for the loss of their property at a rate the commissioners deemed fair market value. However, the landowners bringing this most recent suit refused the payment, and the money — just over $63,000 — was placed in escrow. Collectively, according to a source within the commissioners’ office, they seek approximately $2 million, citing inadequate valuations of their properties, compensation for lost trees and, due to the original finding that the commissioners acted outside their bounds, remuneration for years of trespass violations. The suit additionally seeks to have the properties in question “returned to their original condition.”

Last week, visiting Judge Dale A Crawford with the Ohio Supreme Court granted a mediation request by Linde Webb, a Toledo-based attorney representing the plaintiffs. The mediation will take place on July 10 and 11 in the Putnam County Courthouse.

“This will be the third mediation,” Love said, referring to the initial lawsuit, the commissioners’ request for mediation by a federal court judge and the upcoming session. “This one’s being ordered here locally. We’ve made the effort twice before.”

According to estimates released by the commissioners’ office, to date, the county has incurred over $12,000 in legal fees with regard to these most recent litigations.

“Every day we have to hire an outside counsel, there’s a cost,” Love said.