What happens when a private country club is blocking access to the site of an ancient burial mound? Can the state use eminent domain to take control of the club’s lease, granting public access to the burial site?
These questions are not hypothetical. They involve a real case that has become a point of contention throughout Ohio.
Private ownership versus public access
The eminent domain case involving Moundbuilders Country Club will head to the Ohio State Supreme Court for a final decision. Last year, a district court in Licking County ruled that the state can force the club to terminate its lease, allowing the Ohio History Connection to reclaim the land. An appellate court later upheld this verdict.
The country club sits on a 2,000-year-old burial site called the Octagon Mounds. The Ohio History Connection currently owns the land and leases it to the Moundbuilders Country Club. The History Connection would like to buy back its lease before its contract with the club is up and convert the land to a public park.
Ruling may continue eminent domain precedent
Supreme court rulings have a long-lasting impact on local cases. The Ohio Supreme Court’s ruling will set the bar for future, similar eminent domain cases. If the district court and the appellate court’s previous rulings are any indication, the Ohio Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of the Ohio History Connection.
This would be a boon for those who advocate for public use over private ownership. However, it would prove a blow to those who favor the rights of private leaseholders and landowners. It would continue a precedent in which the government can force private individuals and organizations to forfeit their rights.
The future remains to be seen, though, and the struggle for private landholders to retain their property against eminent domain will continue.