Timber case in court’s hands

Decision will be made on Falls’ trees lawsuit

NEWTON FALLS — A court magistrate soon will decide whether a lawsuit to stop the harvesting of trees on school district property should move forward or be dismissed.

Meanwhile, a temporary injunction preventing the trees from being harvested remains in place until a decision is made.

The Newton Falls Board of Education in April awarded a $147,000 contract to Noah Troyer of R&T Lumber in Middlefield to timber 42 acres of primeval forest behind the elementary school in an effort to shore up the district’s finances. The board plans to do a selective harvest of the trees and has been working with Timothy Morgan, a forest manager from the Ravenna Arsenal, on the timbering plan since August.

The contract with Troyer is on hold until the legal issue is resolved.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Court magistrate Beth Anne Aurolio on Tuesday heard testimony from Morgan, Newton Falls Board of Education member Amie Crowder, lawsuit plaintiffs Werner Lange and Patti Hanzes, as well as David Hinchman, whose property abuts the forest where the timbering is planned.

Aurolio will take the testimony under advisement to determine if the case has enough merit to proceed, court records show. No timeline was given, but Lange said he is hoping a decision will be made within a few weeks.

Lange said the board’s attorneys are challenging whether he, Hanzes and Hinchman have legal standing to challenge the timbering plan because they are not parties to, nor direct beneficiaries of, a deed filed as part of the case.

The deed in question is dated Oct. 30, 1987, and conveys 42 acres of undeveloped woods to the board from Don P. Cook and Nils P. Johnson. The deed notes the land was donated “to be used for educational or public purposes the board deems proper.” The deed also includes a restrictive covenant that states if the lands are not used for those purposes for a period of 10 years, the land should automatically revert back to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Lange said Crowder testified under oath on Tuesday that an offer was made to the school board by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to buy the land for future preservation.

“They refused the offer without good reason, and it would have been almost the same amount of money,” Lange said.

Hanzes said the reason the board didn’t accept the offer was because it takes six months to a year for the Conservancy to make payment, and the board didn’t want to wait that long.

However, Crowder said after the hearing no such offer was made by the Conservancy.

“There was no discussion about the conservancy purchasing the land. I wish the other side would stop putting words in my mouth,” Crowder said.

Hanzes said more than 80 people living on the streets surrounding the forest where the timbering is planned signed a petition against the logging, but the board does not care.

“Those same people are going to be asked to pass a levy in the fall. Why would the board want to tick them off?” Hanzes said.