Columbus and four other cities have banded together to sue the state over a provision in the two-year budget that will allow property owners who live along protected waterways to maintain vegetation that serves as a protective buffer zone.
Columbus, along with the cities of Westerville, Akron, Barberton and Lima, argue “natural vegetative buffers substantially decrease the amount of harmful contaminants and pollutants that are ultimately introduced into the raw drinking-water supply.”
The cities have asked Franklin County Common Pleas Court to issue a permanent injunction and prevent the law from going into effect Sept. 29.
The language in the budget states that municipalities that have established and implemented watershed management programs must allow contiguous property owners to maintain the buffer zones for access paths no greater than five feet in width; the creation of a “view corridor”; removal of invasive plant species; and beautification of the property.
Under the provision, law enforcement officials will be unable to issue trespassing citations to individuals who enter buffer zones to mow grass, weeds or other vegetation.
State Sen. Kris Jordan, R-Powell, helped craft the budget provision. He said he was not surprised by the lawsuit.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “They treated elderly women with jail time because they wanted to trim branches hanging in their property. If Columbus was a decent neighbor, we wouldn’t be having these problems.”
Homeowners near the O’Shaughnessy and Hoover reservoirs in Delaware County – both of which are owned and maintained by the city of Columbus — have received letters from the city, directing them to leave the vegetation along the shoreline alone.
At least two county residents have faced criminal trespassing charges for failure to comply. In both cases, the charges were dismissed after the landowners agreed to certain conditions imposed by the city.
Jordan said he will continue to pursue the issue, even if the lawsuit is successful.
“I’m not going to let the city of Columbus continue to abuse Delaware County residents,” he said. “I’ll find a different way to go at it if they are successful on this one.”
The city of Columbus currently owns more than 8,100 acres of property in Delaware County, valued at more than $118 million. Much of the property is along sources of the city’s drinking water.
In June the city was forced to issue an advisory due to high nitrate levels in drinking water, which city officials attributed to runoff fertilizer from farms and lawns. More recently, toxic algae was detected at a Columbus water treatment plant.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.