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Rural Cape Breton fence dispute to be resolved in city boardroom

CBRM fences arbitration committee members Arnie Verchuren, left, and deputy mayor Ivan Doncaster discuss the testimony they heard in the recently-established body's first hearing which was focused on a fencing dispute and the alleged roaming of livestock in the rural Cape Breton community of Mill Creek.
CBRM fences arbitration committee members Arnie Verchuren, left, and deputy mayor Ivan Doncaster discuss the testimony they heard in the recently-established body's first hearing which was focused on a fencing dispute and the alleged roaming of livestock in the rural Cape Breton community of Mill Creek. - David Jala
SYDNEY, N.S. —

A dispute over roaming livestock may sound like the basis of a rough and tumble western movie, but it appears one such local quarrel will be resolved in a city hall boardroom.

The disagreement involves a group of Mill Creek residents who say an area farmer has been negligent in allowing his cattle to occasionally escape from the fenced family farm he operates adjacent to their housing division.

Mill Creek farmer Donnie MacNeil is shown offering his side of the story of several fencing breaches that allegedly led to his livestock roaming a nearby residential subdivision.
Mill Creek farmer Donnie MacNeil is shown offering his side of the story of several fencing breaches that allegedly led to his livestock roaming a nearby residential subdivision.

According to testimony presented at the inaugural meeting of the CBRM’s recently-struck Fences Arbitration Committee, the dispute between the neighbours and farmer Donnie MacNeil goes back several years in the rural community off Point Aconi Road.

The committee, which is comprised of deputy mayor Ivan Doncaster, who serves as chair, and citizen appointee Arnie Verschuren, met for the first time on Thursday after being established following complaints aired by Keith Sullivan and others. Sullivan appeared before the committee and read from a page long letter signed by himself and seven other Mill Creek residents.

“The bottom line is that I just don’t want livestock on my property – keep them fenced in and keep them off my property,” said Sullivan, a retired building inspector who built a house 20 years ago on land in the subdivision that was he purchased from George MacNeil, father of Donnie who owns the livestock the residents say often run free through the neighbourhood.

“I’m 67, I’m retired and it’s just too hard on me to go chasing after cows – I try to garden and I try to have my fruit trees, but it’s a little too much. I also put in a new $15,000 septic system that has a pumping chamber and the cover said it can support 850 pounds, so if a 1,200-pound animal lands on that I am going to have problems.”

Sullivan said he wants the committee to direct MacNeil to build better and more secure fences.

“It’s okay if the fence is good, but I can’t see them staying in with that fence the way it is now,” he said.

MacNeil see things differently.

“In most cases the cattle are walking the fence line trying to get back in with their friends, they’re not looking to cause havoc and destruction as he would suggest, they’re just trying to make their way back in,” said the 54-year-old MacNeil, who runs the mixed farm that sits on family land he has lived on since childhood.

Mill Creek resident Keith Sullivan appeared before the CBRM's fences arbitration committee on Thursday at city hall where he represented a group of eight area residents who say a nearby farmer has been negligent in allowing his livestock to roam the neighbourhood.
Mill Creek resident Keith Sullivan appeared before the CBRM's fences arbitration committee on Thursday at city hall where he represented a group of eight area residents who say a nearby farmer has been negligent in allowing his livestock to roam the neighbourhood.

“I admit that we’ve had issues in the past, say five to 10 years ago, but we’ve spent a lot of time and money and effort to rectify that – this gentleman is referencing issues that happened five to 10 years ago and we’ve already minimized those issues.

“There’s always been fences there and we’re in a constant state of upgrading and maintaining, and as recently as this spring we went through and did a full upgrade to all those fence lines, which we have to do seasonally anyway because the winter can create havoc with the fences.”

The fences arbitration hearing committee meeting was adjourned after the two sides presented their cases. There was also testimony from Nova Scotia agriculture department representative Gary Koziel who told the committee that “there is no fence that’s a 100 per cent.”

Doncaster said the committee is taking “baby steps” because it is in waters that are somewhat uncharted.

“Maybe this is an issue for the agriculture department,” he mused afterwards

He said the committee will review the evidence and consult CBRM regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas before rendering any kind of decision on the matter.

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