2008-09-13 / News

Bike path countersuit reconsidered

By Scott Rawdon

NEWARK - Licking Township residents' countersuit against the Licking County Prosecutor's Office is being reconsidered.

Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said Tuesday that the countersuit, which contends that the prosecutor's office "conspired," he said, with the TJ Evans Foundation against Licking Township residents in a land dispute, may be unnecessary.

To review, Licking Township residents who live along the rail bed of the former Buckeye Scenic Railway are trying to stop the TJ Evans Foundation from turning the formerrail bed into a bike path by paving it. Licking Township resident Joe Simon, whose property the former rail bed crosses, said the original railroad had the right to use the property for a rail line. But, since the tracks have been removed it is no longer a rail line and the Evans Foundation, he said, doesn't have the right to pave the rail bed into a bike trail without the residents' permission. The foundation only purchased the railroad's interest in the property via a quit claim deed, rather than the property itself.

Simon said four years ago, residents who own property along the rail bed signed a petition clearly stating that none of them wants a bike trail placed arbitrarily across his or her property. Simon said the foundation only purchased the railroad's interest in the property via a quit claim deed, rather than the property itself.

The prosecutor's office filed a lawsuit naming both the TJ Evans Foundation and the residents asking the courts to sort out the ownership claims. Oswalt was surprised, however, when the residents filed suit Sept. 5 claiming that the prosecutor's office "conspired" with the TJ Evans Foundation against the residents and had no right to "inject itself" into a private property dispute.

He said the attorney who filed the countersuit is new to the case. He had a long conversation with the attorney Tuesday, who agreed to review the case over the following 48 hours and decide if filing it is still the correct course of action. In return, Oswalt said he agreed not to comment to the media during the 48-hour period beyond what he told the Beacon Tuesday afternoon. "We're trying to work through this without adding fuel to the fire," he said.

According to the countersuit, the Licking Township residents - Simon and Diane Simon; James and Carol Cormican; Bradley and Carol Smith; Herbert and Betty Dales; Gregory, Mary Jane, David, Jane, and Mark Schell, and Jene Davis - are sueing the county and the TJ Evans Foundation for at least $135,000. According to the lawsuit, the residents are suing for $25,000 for a taking of property, $25,000 for damages, $25,000 for attorney fees, $50,000 for punitive damages, and $10,000 for trespassing on their property.

Oswalt expects to know by Thursday afternoon if the residents will continue the lawsuit.

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