Fight over trees on donated land in Newton Falls headed to court - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Fight over trees on donated land in Newton Falls headed to court

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NEWTON FALLS, Ohio -

A fight over the future of land donated to the Newton Falls Exempted Village School Board is headed to court. 

Trees on an undeveloped property spanning 42 acres are at the center of a trial set to start on Tuesday morning in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

The property, which is heavily forested with trees and some wetlands, was donated to the school board in 1987 by Don Cook and Nils Johnson for educational or public purposes that the school board deems proper.

If the land was not used for those purposes within ten years, the property was supposed to automatically go into the hands of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for "maximum enjoyment of the general public," according to the deed.

Community activists say they're against the school board's plan to sell off the trees to a lumber company for profit. They believe the school board won't be following the requirements of the deed by removing the trees. The group and people living nearby also wonder if the school board has plans for the property beyond the tree removal.

A judge recently extended a temporary restraining order, which prevented the school board from accepting a bid of $147,000 from a lumber company out of Middlefield for trees on the land. 

Some of the larger trees on the property currently have red markings indicating they could be cut down if the school board eventually moves forward with the plan.

"They could have nature trails there, they could have educational events there, and now they've decided just to raise a few thousand dollars just to destroy it forever, that's an outrage," said Werner Lange said, a petitioner and plaintiff listed in the lawsuit filed against the school board and its members.

Close to 80 people have signed a petition in opposition of the cutting down of the trees on the 42 acres.

The land backs up into nearby homeowners' properties. Some are worried about the potential impact of tree removal, including flooding. 

Neighbors along Mayhill Drive say some saw flooding when the district removed trees to build the new middle school and the football stadium.

"That was another main concern to me, not just the beauty of it, but the flooding," said David Hinchman of Mayhill Drive.

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy did have discussions with the school board about the future of the land in question. A member of the conservancy could not release the details of those talks, but did say "the conservancy is willing to look at conservation projects to find satisfactory outcomes for everyone involved."

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