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Court dismisses country club's appeal in Octagon Earthworks case

curving mound of lush green grass with a tree
Ohio History Connection
The Octagon Observatory Circle in Newark, Ohio.

Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals has thrown out an appeal in the case to determine how much Ohio History Connection must pay a country club to regain land it leases to the club.

Moundbuilders Country Club appealed to the Fifth District in October after a Licking County judge essentially disallowed all the witnesses the club planned to call in a jury trial. That trial was to determine how much Ohio History Connection must pay Moundbuilders to reclaim land currently being used as a golf course. The course sits on the Octagon Earthworks, a sacred, ancient Indigenous earthwork site and part of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which were recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

A three-judge panel with the Fifth District states it dismissed the appeal because the judges determined the order the country club sought to appeal was not a final, appealable order.

"We lack jurisdiction over this case," the order states, and so the panel dismissed it.

RELATED: Trial to decide how much historical society pays country club to reclaim earthworks site on hold

A spokesman for Ohio History Connection tells WVXU, "Although we do not yet know when the jury trial may be rescheduled by Judge David Branstool in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas, we continue to respect the ongoing legal process surrounding the Octagon Earthworks and are thankful for the court system's adjudication as we await the outcome of the trial.

"Our guiding principles throughout this process have been to enable full public access to the Octagon Earthworks while ensuring Moundbuilders Country Club receives just compensation for the value of its lease on the property."

A request for comment from the country club was sent to the club's attorneys.

It is unclear if the country club will appeal the ruling or if the case will now return to the Licking County Court of Common Pleas.

Get caught up

Ohio History Connection (OHC) and Moundbuilders Country Club have been at odds since the historical society moved to reclaim the land upon which the country club operates a golf course. OHC had repeatedly leased the land to the country club but decided to revoke the lease as it pursued UNESCO World Heritage status for the Octagon Earthworks and other Hopewell mounds.

The agency sought to reclaim the land where the Octagon Earthworks sit through eminent domain. On Dec. 7, 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld two lower court rulings siding with Ohio History Connection. The country club immediately asked the state supreme court to reconsider, but that request was promptly denied, and a jury trial was set to determine how much OHC must pay the country club.

That jury trial was set to start in mid-October of 2023. Experts hired by OHC appraised the value of the country club at around $2 million, while experts hired by Moundbuilders Country Club put the value at around $22 million.

RELATED: State Supreme Court sides with Ohio History Connection in bid for Newark earthworks site

In filings leading up to the scheduled jury trial, Licking County Judge David Branstool ruled the experts hired by Moundbuilders inappropriately included the value of the earthworks in their estimates.

Branstool wrote "the Country Club is not entitled to be compensated for any value attributed by the earthworks as they are owned by the OHC for the benefit of the public."

In his Oct. 6 decision, the judge notes that the average sale price of golf courses in Ohio over the previous two years was $2.5 million. He disallowed any witnesses tied to the valuations that included the worth of the earthworks, which was effectively excluded all witnesses the country club intended to call.

Attorneys for the country club then appealed the judge's order.

"The court recently eliminated all of our witnesses," attorney Joseph Fraley wrote in an email to WVXU. "A trial that only allows the state to present evidence is not a trial at all."

The jury trial was put on hold while the appeal was sent to the Fifth District, which dismissed the appeal Jan. 16, 2024.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.