With the rapid pace of growth in western Licking County, some commercial builders and business owners have taken the law into their own hands by moving ahead with construction projects before they have all of the proper permits and inspections.
Linda Nicodemus calls it “the wild western Licking County,” and those builders are learning that she and a posse of other county officials are not standing for those who go rogue.
“We have a lot of people who know they need these permits,” said Nicodemus, the stormwater manager for the Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District. “They’ll go get a permit from the EPA but not do the rest of the steps.”
Her office works with the Licking County Planning and Development Office, the county Planning Commission, local planning and zoning boards, and local utilities and fire departments to make sure excavation and construction work is done according to local and state regulations designed to protect people and the environment.
So while a Licking County judge was ordering LeVeck Commercial Construction & Development of Columbus to stop work on a warehouse project in western Licking County in December, it was one of many that Nicodemus and her colleagues were trying to get to follow the rules.
The county issued a stop-work order to owners of the warehouse construction site, Jersey 1820 Ltd. and Jersey Warehouse, in October that says the companies failed to obtain required government permits, failed to submit plans and an associated stormwater report for review and approval by the planning commission, failed to establish sediment and erosion control measures, and failed to establish stormwater, sediment and/or water quality basins.
As of last week, nearly half of the more than 50 projects being monitored by county officials had obtained all of the proper permits but were out of compliance with the rules spelled out in stormwater permits, she said. Nearly a dozen others didn’t have proper permits and were in violation of the rules.
One of them is on 36 acres owned by The New Albany Company’s MBJ Holdings directly across Worthington Road, near Mink Street, from the warehouse construction project shut down by Common Pleas Judge Thomas Marcelain.
“It was to have been a ‘lay down’ area for pipe storage,” Nicodemus said about the MBJ Holdings property at 12148 Worthington Road. “We got a call one day from someone saying that there was a concrete batch plant there. No one ever submitted plans for review or for permits.”
Leveling the site and preparing it for a concrete-mixing plant involved excavation and gravel fill that required a plan review and permits.
Equipment bearing the name of Complete General Construction of Columbus remains on the site, which is quiet now. When a county inspector visited the site on Oct. 30 and asked a supervisor to stop operations until plans were reviewed and permits were issued, Nicodemus said that the inspector was told they were near the end of the construction season and they’d stop work in another week.
In a Nov. 2 letter to Jeff Thompson, vice president of paving operations for Complete General Construction, Licking County Planning Manager Brad Mercer wrote that the county would not file a motion seeking a court order for a temporary restraining order if work stopped by Nov. 8. He warned, however, that his office would go to court to shut down the operation if the company tries to restart concrete mixing on that site in 2024 before submitting applications for review and receiving permits.
Nicodemus said the company recently indicated it intends to go through the process of obtaining permits so that it can operate there this year.
At least nine other projects, beyond the two on Worthington Road, lack the proper permits and are in violation of county regulations, Nicodemus said. Four of them are in St. Albans Township adjacent to the Village of Alexandria and along Raccoon Creek.
Violations include stormwater management to protect wetlands and avoid erosion and the flow of sediment onto neighboring properties and into streams, where it functions as a pollutant that can harm aquatic life, Nicodemus said. Here are the properties where Nicodemus said work was done without proper permits:
– A2B Property Services, at 1680 Johnstown-Alexandria Road, on the southeast edge of Alexandria, was notified in May by the Licking County Planning Commission that it was in violation of flood-damage prevention regulations on three acres there.
– Shelly Materials and Colleen Geiger, owner of 169 acres at 1434 Tharp Road NW, on the southeast side of Alexandria, were found in violation of flood-plain regulations in December 2022 and ordered to stop work there until they obtained a permit to work in the floodplain, which has not happened.
– Kurtz Brothers Mulch and Brookside Materials, co-located at 2409 Johnstown-Alexandria Road on the northwest side of Alexandria. They compost yard waste, process topsoil, manufacture mulch, and mine sand and gravel on the site. Violations there relate to erosion control and stormwater runoff, particularly concerning runoff that could contain dyes and manure mixed with mulch. Nicodemus also said work on the site filled in part of Simpson Run, a tributary of Raccoon Creek, and “there is no water flowing there now.”
– Martin Trucking, at 2699 Johnstown-Alexandria Road, near Kurtz Brothers and Brookside Materials on the northwest side of Alexandria, sells sand and gravel, and Scioto Materials operates a concrete-mixing facility on about 11 acres there. Violations relate to lack of a stormwater pollution prevention plan for the property, according to Ohio EPA and county records.
– Midstates Recreation, at 1279 Hazelton-Etna Rd SW (Rt. 310), just south of Rt. 161 and Worthington Road, designs and installs playground equipment, according to its website, and Nicodemus said it did phases of development on that property without permits.
– Card Real Estate Investments land at 4480 Cristland Hill Road, in Licking Township, is the site of Grosse Construction Services. An inspector found debris in a nearby stream and that county permits had not been issued for commercial buildings on the land north of Buckeye Lake.
– Linn Concrete, on Hebron Road (Rt. 79) on the south side of Heath, is under a court order issued in October by Licking County Common Pleas Judge David Branstool to complete a number of tasks on a series of deadlines through May 2024. The judgment came after the county asked the judge to find the company in contempt of court for failing to comply with previous orders. The judge fined the company $88,600 and said the fine would be waived if it follows the court’s latest order, which requires a number of things, including that it to follow floodplain, stormwater and pollution control regulations, construct improvements on its 4.5-acre site along the South Fork of the Licking River as outlined in engineering plans, and that it not bring additional fill material onto the site.
– Toboso Ag, a sand, gravel and top-soil company, was in violation by disturbing land with a mining operation on 49 acres in eastern Licking County owned by Crispin Auto Wrecking of Newark. The company has no permit to operate in a flood plain. The property is adjacent to property owned by the U.S. government for Dillon Lake and Wildlife Area on the Licking River in adjacent Muskingum County.
– Zemba Brothers and Adams Brothers, two Zanesville companies, have a joint operation on 29 acres northeast of the intersection of Rt. 13 and I-70 in southeastern Licking County that county officials said was in violation. They operate a construction-equipment training service and a concrete-mixing plant there, and Nicodemus said that materials washed from concrete-mixer trucks was overflowing a retention tank and flowing into a nearby ditch along I-70. “They have now submitted plans” to address that situation, she said.
Middle West Spirits of Columbus had started construction of storage facilities in Bowling Green Township without permits, Nicodemus said. But when an inspector visited the site in the southeastern part of the county near I-70, the company stopped construction and indicated it would look for another site, “so they are in compliance now,” Nicodemus said.
Alan Miller writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.