The Conservancy Court for the Muskingum Watershed held its annual meeting at the Tuscarawas County Courthouse on Saturday, June 1.
The court has been receiving correspondence for the past few years from fresh water groups that are concerned about the possible effects of oil well fracking on the district's fresh water and the possible use of the district's water in the fracking process.
Representatives of this and other groups have been attending recent court sessions. It has become apparent to me that their is a great deal of misunderstanding of the Conservancy Court's powers. The court is a statutorily created court. It is not a court created by the Ohio Constitution. This court, like other statutorily created courts, only has the powers granted to it by the Ohio Legislature. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy Court is not a court of general jurisdiction with common law powers. It is a court with limited jurisdiction. Title 61 of The Ohio Revised Code clearly enumerates the court's powers. The court determines whether to grant a petition to establish a conservancy district. It selects the directors of the conservancy district. One director is selected each year. The terms are for five years. On the recommendation of the governing board it appoints appraisers. The court has the final say on rates for water supply agreements. Only water supply contracts for a term exceeding 14 years must be approved by the court. As a general rule no state agency or any subdivision of The State of Ohio can enter into contracts exceeding 14 years. If there are more applications or contracts than there is available water the board must reasonably allocate the water supply, subject to court approval. The court determines whether or not the jurisdictional boundary of the district should be changed (i.e whether the district should add or delete land).
The court hears objections to appraisals and decides whether or not to grant a petition for a readjustment of an appraisal. If the board desires to levy a maintenance assessment in any one year greater than one percent of appraised value they must have the court's approval. The court must approve the official plan for the district each year and determine if the appraised benefits are sufficient.
The court hears and decides petitions of those who are injured by the district and conflicts between districts. The court determines whether to add a subdistrict, unite two districts, annex improvements constructed by another political subdivision, or to form an irrigation district.
There are 18 judges on the court. There is one judge from each of the original 18 counties in the district. If a county has no judge willing to serve, the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court appoints a sitting judge from another county.
An appointed judge does not have to reside in the watershed district.
Ed Lane is a Washington County Common Pleas judge.