10/02/2006

Families who lost Snowden land to eminent domain question development deal: Athens OH News, 9/28/06

By Nick Claussen

After Jim McHarg's father was forced to sell much of his land in the late 1960s to make way for the Lake Snowden reservoir, he never set foot on the land again, even though it was adjacent to his remaining property.

After Todd Bean's father was forced to sell his property for the reservoir, he never wanted to talk about it again, and Bean knew not to ask his father about it.

Many of the families who lost their land to the Lake Snowden project did not want to sell, and they were upset for a long time about losing their land to the flood-control/park project.

Now, these families are upset that the land that was taken from them may be sold to a private developer who will profit from it.

The Margaret Creek Conservancy District took over the property in the 1960s by eminent domain to build a flood-control reservoir. The actual lake was created on land that once was farmland.

The conservancy district sold the property to the Le-Ax Water District in the 1980s so the district could use it as a water supply. In 1998, the water district, no longer needing the lake for water, sold the property to Hocking College to be used as a land lab.

Now, Hocking College is discussing selling part of the park property to the Moondance development group so that a hotel, condominiums, single-family homes, a restaurant and other commercial properties can be built there

Many people in the community are upset about losing public access to part of the park, and some are concerned about the college selling off public lands for a profit.

Several people have questioned whether it's even legal for the park to be sold to a non-public entity.

Sale and park-creation legal documents from the 1960s seem to indicate that the land should remain as public property. The documents state that the land should be open "for the use of the public generally," and that the land should be sold only to a public agency that will operate and maintain the property and keep it open to the public.

Whether or not those documents still apply today and how they apply to this proposal is up for debate.

Mary Ann Hawk, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, has a file full of documents and information on Lake Snowden in her office in The Plains. On Monday, she said that her office is looking into several issues involved with the development of Lake Snowden, including whether it's legal or not for the college to sell the land to a non-public entity.

Hocking College President John Light has stated that the college's legal representatives have researched the issue and believe that it is legal for the college to sell part of the park to a private developer.

WHETHER IT'S LEGAL is one thing, and whether it's fair is another, according to members of a few families who lost their land to the park.

"My family's farm had been in the family for well over 100 years," Bean said Tuesday. The farm had been passed down through the generations, and his father thought he would pass it on to his children.

"My father had an attachment to the land that I think is rarely seen today," Bean said. His father refused to sell, but eventually was forced to do so, he recalled. His father was paid for the land, but he could not find another property where he could move his dairy farm, so he left the farming business, according to Bean, a former mayor of Albany.

"It changed his entire style of life when this occurred," he said.

Now, Bean and his family are watching as the property that they and their neighbors lived on is sold again, and possibly will be turned into condominiums, single-family homes and businesses.

"Something is not right. I don't know what is not right, but something is not right," Bean said. Some of his family members believe that since the land was taken from them by eminent domain, the land should be offered back to them if it is being sold, Bean said. He is researching this and has not been able to find anything on it yet, and he doesn't know what his family would do with the property anyway.

"What do you do with a lake?" Bean asked. It's not an issue about money, Bean said, but rather about the families being treated unfairly and being upset further by what is happening now.

McHarg, who lives across U.S. Rt. 50/Ohio Rt. 32 from the entrance to Lake Snowden, said he walks in the park almost every morning.

McHarg does not like the idea of a restaurant selling alcohol on the park property, and he doesn't like the idea of all of the houses and other projects being built on the land either. He sees how busy Lake Snowden is throughout the year and can't understand why the college is losing so much money on it.

McHarg added that the people who camp at the lake bring a lot of revenue into the community, and he would hate to see the camping taken away by the development.

MCHARG'S FATHER NEVER wanted to sell the land for the park, and he never got over it.

"My father never set foot on the property over there after they took the land from him," McHarg said.

Joyce Bobo of Albany said her family also lost part of their farm when Lake Snowden was built.

Her grandfather was not a well-educated man, but he worked very hard to buy his farm, and then he worked even harder to purchase another farm, Bobo said.

"There was a farm for each one of his children when he passed away," she said. The Lake Snowden project took parts of the family farms, she added.

The flood-control project benefits the community, but Bobo is upset that the land is now being sold to private developers.

"I think that's wrong," she said. Just because the land was taken from her family nearly 40 years ago still does not make it right for others to be making a profit off of the land today, she said.


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