DUNBAR — Bert Geertsma says South Dundas Township is trying to drain him of $18,000 — almost half of a $41,000 engineering bill that also threatens to soak a few others in this rural neighbourhood.
That’s his share of a study he maintains should never have been commissioned because the drainage petition that sparked the matter was botched from the outset. The township has also assigned portions of the controversial bill to five other property owners, ranging down to several hundred dollars. Geertsma says the township’s drainage superintendent has taken the line that "ignorance of the law is no excuse."
He has retained the services of respected agricultural lawyer Donald Good in his dispute with the municipality. Should the hobby farmer prevail, township taxpayers may end up footing the $41,000 total cost of the 2011 report prepared by SAI Engineering — on a drainage project that won’t proceed now anyway.
Intending an improvement to an approximately 2-km stretch of the Barkley branch connected to the Weeagar drain, Geertsma’s neighbouring brother, Jake, collected names on what appears to be the wrong part of the ‘Form 3’ supplied by the township office. The 13 listed individuals never saw the actual page they were supposed to sign, which would have included the printed proviso of liability for costs in connection with undertaking a drainage report, according to Bert Geertsma, who supplied The AgriNews with a copy of the document. Instead, the names wound up on the form’s first page that seems to be designated for a geographical description of the land involved.
"How could this form have been accepted by the office in the first place and not just handed back to be filled in properly?" asked the Froats Road resident. "This would have saved us all a lot of grief!" He also alleges the township clerk never signed off on the document, either, and that three of the listed properties lack the names of joint owners, a requirement under the Drainage Act.
SAI Engineering conducted an onsite meeting with affected landowners a year ago and determined that six of them represented the legally required 60 per cent of the drainage area necessary to take the next step — the undertaking of the report. And that exercise came back with an estimate of more than $350,000 to clean out the branch.
The whopping price tag ended all interest by the signatories, most of whom withdrew their names at an official drainage meeting with council last January.
In a May 14th letter to Geertsma, township clerk Brenda Brunt explained the next step in the petition procedure once a "valid" petition is rendered "insufficient" through a withdrawal of support. "Council decided to proceed no further. Thus, Section 10 states that the original petitioners are required to pay costs in connection with the petition and preliminary report," wrote Brunt, who concluded by rejecting her correspondent’s other request that the township pay his lawyer’s fees.
The matter of the outstanding bill from the township has placed a strain on his relationship with his brother, Geertsma acknowledged, though he also alleged his sibling "was not advised of the [potential] costs" when he applied for the drainage form. "They set him up."
"For me, as a resident of South Dundas, I’ll never darken their [the township’s] door again," said Jake Geertsma, who’s looking at a $2,700 bill and who conceded the situation has put "a strain on the whole neighbourhood."
He said a contractor had earlier provided him an estimate of cleaning out the entire branch in question at about $42,000 — $600 on his section — with permits to be sought through South Nation Conservation.
He never sought to have the branch reclassified as a full-fledged municipal drain, he said, declaring, "We don’t need an engineer; we need a high-hoe."
"You’d think you could get it cleaned for the cost of the study," said Lee Barkley, assessed a $15,000 share of the report cost. "It’s not pleasant. There aren’t that many of us that are in it."
Barkley recounted initiating a similar process that garnered more names on the same branch in 1985, only to have the petition fall through when the price tag — approximately a tenth of today’s estimate — came back from the engineers at the time. Barkley’s share of that report 27 years ago set him back just $200, he said.
Nearly 80 years of age, he recalled that the branch last saw maintenance in the 1940s. The most recent report appeared to contemplate a much deeper excavation of the waterway, he said, when compared with his mid-1980s proposal.