City sued over sewer line dispute

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

An owner of land on Columbus Road in Athens has filed a lawsuit claiming that the city installed a sewer line on his property without permission and without compensation.

Sean Jones of The Plains, who owns 6.39 acres of vacant land on Columbus Road, is asking Athens County Common Pleas Judge L. Alan Goldsberry to order the city to initiate the legal process that would allow Jones to seek compensation for the "taking" of his property. Jones' lawsuit also is seeking in excess of $125,000 for damages.

City Law Director Pat Lang declined comment to The Messenger because the lawsuit is pending. However, Lang asserted in a July letter to Jones' attorney that the city's actions actually benefited Jones.

According to the lawsuit, the city went on the Jones property in 2011 and installed a storm sewer line, despite Jones disputing the city's right to enter his property. The city had a survey done this year and it showed the line is 3 feet outside the city right-of-way and on Jones' property, according to Lang, who noted that the line was installed by the prior owner of the property, not the city, and that plans show it was to be built in the right-of-way.

Jones asserts in the lawsuit that the city's action constitutes a "taking" of his property and that the city has refused to compensate him.

In addition to arguing the city has refused to begin proceedings under Ohio law to negotiate with Jones and afford him a right to a jury trial on compensation, the lawsuit argues that the city's actions violate the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Those amendments prohibit the taking of property without due process, and the 5th Amendment also requires fair compensation if property is taken.

According to Lang's letter, the city was repairing a collapsed storm sewer when workers discovered a partially collapsed sewer line on Jones' property. That was of concern, according to Lang, because if the line fully collapsed it would cause flooding of properties across the street. Lang wrote that Jones refused in 2010 to allow the city on his property to repair the line, but in 2011 Public Works Director Andy Stone became concerned that the sewer line was, in fact, collapsing.

According to Lang's letter, Jones allegedly agreed to let workers onto his property to do the work if they also tied in another drainage line on Jones' property — which the city, to avoid further delay, did at an additional cost to taxpayers of $40,000.

"The city merely conducted emergency maintenance on (the lines) when immediate action was necessary to prevent damage to private property and public infrastructure," Lang asserted in the letter. "The location of these lines has in no way diminished the value of his property nor deprived him of any potential economic use."

Robert Rittenhouse, Jones' attorney, said he disagrees with the arguments Lang made in the letter.

Lang told The Messenger that he will be filing a response to the lawsuit.