The controversy over construction of a road on farmland took a bizarre twist this week when a protestor was hit with a $25,000 lawsuit.
A group called FarmWatch blockaded two weeks ago the entrance to a parcel of land on Finn Road, where leaseholder Bill Jones, of Bill Jones Horticulture, is using fill materials to build a road to a future tree nursery.
FarmWatch — which claims the materials used are harmful to the surrounding farmland — ceased the blockade before taking their protest to city hall, alleging that the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) wasn’t doing enough to prevent supposed contamination.
However, Jones and his business partners — who contend they’ve done nothing illegal and have complied with several ALC inspections, as recent as Tuesday — served lead protestor Ray Galawan with a lawsuit on Wednesday as he continued his demonstration at the site.
Michael Helfrich, spokesman for Bill Jones Horticulture, said Galawan is being sued for $15,000 for disruption to the business and another $10,000 for damage to reputation through defamation.
“This was an illegal blockade and all the time we had to keep paying our contractor and soil engineer, neither of whom could access the site,” Helfrich said.
“You simply can’t go around telling everyone we’re poisoning the soil when it’s not true.”
Galawan, who along with fellow FarmWatch members have set up a tent at the entrance 24 hours a day, said he was handed some papers Wednesday by someone from Bill Jones’ company, but he simply let the documents flop to the ground.
“Last time I looked the papers were lying in the mud by the road, I’ve no idea what was written on them,” he told the News.
“The guy then pointed to Bob (Featherstone) and said he’d be receiving something by mail this week as well.”
Galawan insists the offending material being used to construct the road, such as asphalt and rebar, is still on the site, despite claims that it had been removed.
Helfrich, however, said the ALC compliance officer was on the site as recent as Tuesday and was happy with the progress being made.
“We’re still in the process of removing certain materials and the ALC is watching what we do,” Helfrich added.
The compliance officer in question, Thomas Loo, confirmed he was on the site this week, saying he will continue to keep an eye on the work being done.
“ALC compliance staff are monitoring the site … asphalt and other foreign debris (are being) removed from the road and will be removed from the site by the operator,” Loo wrote in an email to the News.
Loo added that the “operator has advised that they will not be using asphalt grindings. Any offensive materials by ALC standards will be set aside for removal. Nothing will be placed for road construction unless authorized by (the) ALC.”
Loo pointed out previously that similar fill materials have been used in the cranberry industry and there have been no concerns it exposed the crops to harmful substances.
Officials at Canada Future Investments, owners of the property, had sought a court injunction to remove the blockade but had their petition refused in court.
Company spokesperson Timothy Cheung said the judge did not consider the actions of FarmWatch a protest and said the matter is one for the RCMP.
A packed house at city hall council chambers last week witnessed a new bylaw requiring a permit for soil removal and fill projects on Agricultural Land Reserve sites.
However, the new law still has to be rubber-stamped by the province, which has jurisdiction over farmland.
Under the new law, a $600 permit will be required before any soil is removed or filling in is carried out on farmland and a fine of up to $10,000 per day can be issued for infractions.