Environmentalists are celebrating an appeals court decision that returns central Ohio’s last urban wetlands to the state.
A three-judge panel of the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus decided March 29 that Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Brown ruled in error in 2016 when he ordered the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to hand over the Sawmill Wetlands property near Dublin for free to a private developer.
Brown had issued the order because he said ODNR had breached a land-swap contract with JDS So Cal Ltd., which planned to develop the property for commercial use.
The state did not breach its contract, the appeals court judges unanimously agreed in reversing the ruling.
“This decision is a huge victory for our environment, natural resources and protected public lands in Columbus,” Trent Dougherty, general counsel at the Ohio Environmental Council, said in a statement.
The advocacy group had urged the state to take legal action.
James Schrim III of JDS So Cal Ltd., the developer who struck the deal with the state for the property in 2012, called the ruling “highly unusual.”
He said he and his business partner, David Ruma, are disappointed in the decision and are considering their next steps.
“What this decision means for the citizens of the state of Ohio is that contracts are important, unless they’re with the state,” Schrim said.
“This appeals case says the state can breach them for political convenience at any time.
“We believe that political influence and hysteria and cowardice have supplanted the rule of the law,” Schrim said, “especially the rule of contracts law, in this case.”
The Sawmill Wetlands, a 17.5-acre wildlife site near Sawmill Road and state Route 161 in northwest Columbus, is surrounded by a shopping center and apartments.
It can now be preserved as an educational area, said Stephanie Leis, a spokeswoman for the ODNR.
Michelle Shinew, co-founder of the Friends of the Sawmill Wetlands, thanked ODNR and the Environmental Council for “saving the only natural area in our neighborhood.”
“Our thanks to all the friends who stuck with us through this long fight to protect this precious property,” Shinew said.