ANDOVER — A man is seeking to remove Pymatuning Creek from the state’s designation as a wild and scenic river on the grounds the move infringes on private property rights, however officials say he is fighting an unnecessary battle.
The Pymatuning Creek, which flows through Cherry Valley and Wayne townships in Ashtabula County before heading into Kinsman Township in Trumbull County, was designated as an Ohio Wild and Scenic River in December 2018.
During the ceremony, state and local officials praised Trumbull County private landowners for buying into conservation efforts.
Doug Piontkowski, a Kinsman Township resident, has questions about potential long-term ramifications of such a designation and what it means for private property rights. Piontkowski is distributing a petition to have the creek taken off the state’s list, and he has been speaking at various trustee and council meetings to voice his concerns. He most recently spoke to Andover Village Council Tuesday.
More than 40 people have signed an online petition organized by Piontkowski — who said he does not own a property adjacent to Pymatuning Creek — which calls the designation illegitimate, a violation of the property rights of landowners adjacent to the creek, the U.S. Constitution and sovereignty. More have signed physical forms, he said.
Among Piontkowski’s concerns are the wording of state law that allows for such designations to include land up to 1,000 feet from shorelines. He’s also concerned the state could one day seek to acquire property to “provide for the protection and public recreational use of a wild, scenic or recreational river area.”
“I am asking the director of the ODNR to follow procedures to eliminate this,” Piontkowski said. “When it comes to something as valuable as personal property rights there needs to be more awareness.”
However, Bob Gale, ODNR Scenic Rivers program manager, said though a mechanism to have a waterway removed from the state’s scenic river program exists, it has not once been used in the program’s 50 years.
“We’ve never gone down that path or experienced that,” Gale said. “Quite frankly, that would be some new territory.”
Though Piontkowski cites Ohio laws in his petition and information he shares at meetings, Gale said Ohio law also clearly states the rights of private property owners adjacent to scenic, wild or recreational rivers will not be infringed upon.
“Declaration by the director that an area is a wild, scenic or recreational river area does not authorize the director or any governmental agency or political subdivision to restrict the use of land by the owner thereof,” the law reads in part.
“If you look at that paragraph, and he has it right in here on his list of concerns, that paragraph protects private property rights,” Gale said.
Additionally, Gale said municipalities or local or state government agencies wishing to do work along such waterways — for construction of infrastructure like bridges — must first obtain approval through the ODNR director.
Greg Leonhard, a Kinsman Township Trustee who works for the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, said Piontkowski has been to meetings and has spoken with people from the scenic river program about his concerns.
Leonhard, who sits on the Ohio Scenic Rivers advisory council, said Kinsman Township Trustees and others in Kinsman were the ones who got the ball rolling on the designation of Pyamtuning Creek.
Leonhard said as a trustee he would never enter into something that allows the government to take someone’s property.
“The scenic rivers program has been in existence for 50 years and not one time have they taken anybody’s property,” Leonhard said.
Designation of the Pymatuning Creek in December as a wild and scenic river was the fourth designation to occur in Ashtabula County — the others being Conneaut Creek and the Ashtabula and Grand rivers — and the first of its kind in Trumbull County. Almost 30 miles of Pymatuning Creek was recommended as an Ohio Wild River, while several more received a scenic designation.