Drains, petitions and liability

 

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Bert Geertsma, a resident of South Dundas, who recently received a bill of $18,313.85 from the Township of South Dundas.

The bill is for Geerstma’s portion of an engineering report for the Barkley Branch to the Weegar McMillan Municipal Drain.

The issue, according to Bert’s brother Jake, began with a simple desire to have the “crick” cleaned out. He had gotten an estimate for the job, approximately $42,000 altogether, and ventured forth to the township to find out how to proceed.

According to Jake, he was told by Don Lewis, manager of planning and enforcement in South Dundas, that he would need to get his neighbours involved by signing a petition.

Armed with 15 names, Jake said that he went back to the township with the paper and then waited for further instruction.

According to Bert, in early November of 2011, affected residents received notification that the Barkley Branch project would cost approximately $350,000 to complete based on an engineering report by SAI Engineering.

Several neighbours withdrew their support for the “cleaning” only to discover that they were now on the hook for the engineering report fee, something the Geertsma brothers maintain they were not informed about prior to the report taking place.

In fact, both brothers maintain that they wanted the Barkley Branch creek cleaned out, but that the report is actually an estimate on creating a whole new municipal drain. “We got a report we never asked for,” said Bert.

“He just went on his own and did it,” said Jake, referring to Lewis.

According to Bert, the engineering report itself cost approximately $41,000 and was divided amongst a handful of residents.

Armed with examples from other Ontario municipalities and backed by his Ottawa lawyer, Donald R. Good, Bert maintains that the initial petition is invalid and, therefore, those listed should not be held accountable for the bill. 

The petition in question is a two-sided form: side A is meant to be a geographical description of the property requiring drainage work while side B is meant for names, contact information, and each land owner’s lot description.

Land owners who signed or printed their names on the form used side A, never actually seeing side B, which has a disclaimer explaining liability.

This alone, said Bert, should have caught the attention of township administration and the form should have been returned with instructions for filling it out properly. This, he said, wasn’t done.

In addition, several properties are co-owned between wife and husband, but only one person has signed. To be legal, he explained, the form requires both signatures.

Not only does the form lack the requisite co-owner signatures, said Bert, but it also lacked the signature of the township clerk.

For these reasons, Bert maintains that the township and the engineer should have recognized the petition as invalid and, therefore, chosen not to proceed.

Speaking for the Township of South Dundas, mayor Steven Byvelds, said that “council had a meeting to consider it. Council did what it had to do with the Act,” maintaining that proper procedures, as outlined by the Drainage Act, were followed.

“The township is trying to wash their hands of us,” said Bert. “I’ve talked to councillors in other townships and they can’t believe what’s going on.”

“All we wanted was a clear out,” emphasized Jake, referring back to the $42,000 estimate he’d already gotten from a “reputable contractor” prior to the whole issue taking place. “We got ripped off big time.”

Bert is committed to proceeding with legal action, if necessary.

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