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Dispute over bike path to extend into 2009

NEWARK – The dispute between the TJ Evans Foundation and Licking Township property owners who own property along the vacated Buckeye Scenic Railway rail bed won’t be resolved until next year.

An October 15 pretrial conference with all parties before Judge Thomas Marcelain set a March 2009 deadline for the co-defendants to submit their ownership claims. The suit, initiated by County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt, names both the foundation and adjacent property owners as defendants.

The co-defendants are currently working on title searches regarding the rail bed. They are also exchanging information with each other, according to assistant county prosecutor Jim Miller who has been assigned to the suit. Miller said the property owners continue to claim they are not asking the court to name either co-defendant the property owner; they simply want the court to determine ownership of the now abandoned rail bed so the dispute can be resolved.

To review, Licking Township property owners who own property along the rail bed of the former Buckeye Scenic Railway are trying to stop the TJ Evans Foundation from turning the former rail 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.

Miller said the Supreme Court of Ohio rejected a request from the property owners that all Licking County judges recuse themselves from hearing the dispute. Miller said the chief justice determined that Marcelain would not be biased toward any party in this matter, and the chief justice stated that he was not provided sufficient evidence to persuade him to believe that Marcelain could not preside over the case in a fair and impartial manner.

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