After a back and forth argument over an unsightly premises complaint, Ponoka County councillors made personal trips to see the land in question before discussing options with the parties involved.
At the Sept. 3 meeting, Gary and Pascale Duff, who say they’ve tried before to stimulate action regarding the property, relayed their unhappiness with adjacent landowner Albert Brown, whose machinery “bone yard” can be seen from Elkhorn Road.
“I’m not sure what you call it, a wrecker operation has developed over time. There’s concern obviously,” explained CAO Charlie Cutforth.
The Duffs have spent time and resources planting trees across the space between their lands to act as a screen but the trees also take away from their farmable land.
“Our purpose here is to establish the fact the property is supporting unwelcome development, resulting in an unsightly premises . . . It’s zoned as agricultural and it’s just become an eyesore,” said Mrs. Duff.
“It’s also decreasing the value of my property substantially,” she added.
The Duffs believe a collection of an estimated 100 vehicles, oilfield equipment, piles of scrap metal, Sea-Can containers and modular trailers exceed the limits set by the county.
Cutforth says situations like this can become a grey area because collection yards of a smaller scale aren’t uncommon on agriculturally zoned property.
“Ultimately the argument becomes this — and I mean it’s substantial — there is a substantial amount of whatever it is, equipment, vehicles, trucks, whatever. There’s no denying that when you drive by on the road . . . Ultimately a judge would have to decide is this an agricultural pursuit or is it some kind of commercial pursuit,” explained Cutforth.
Cutforth says Ponoka County has an unwritten philosophy that as long as landowners aren’t adversely affecting neighbours, they can do what they will on their own property.
Ponoka County now has to decide whether Brown is adversely affecting the Duffs’ enjoyment of their land. “There’s been arguments both ways,” said Cutforth.
The situation and consequences could end up in front of a judge, said Cutforth. “That’s the route it could end up going.”
Brown also attended the meeting to counter the Duffs’ accusations. “Number 1, I don’t have an auto wreckers going out there.”
Brown told council he isn’t running a commercial operation, he farms the land. “I take a couple thousand bales off that place every year.”
Mr. Duff accused Brown of also storing large tanks for crude oil on his land, which were explained as tanks for storing grain.
In some of the photos the Duff’s presented, what Reeve Gordon Svenningsen originally thought was truck was a shed. “I got that cheap for the critters to go in. You can get it for next to nothing, haul her home and let the critters go in it,” Brown explained.
Brown also explained modular homes made good woodworking shops.
Mrs. Duff asked when Brown is going to start using the modulars as woodworking areas and why he doesn’t finish restoration projects before bringing more equipment onto the property. She also questioned why some of this time couldn’t be used to clean the land at a time she and her husband are comfortable with.
To council she mentioned a timeline of six months to one year.
“As you know, I’m disabled and can only do so much a day. I’m not healthy like these young fellas. I put in as many hours as I can in a day,” said Brown.
“I’m a little confused here. I believe I pay my taxes. What he (Gary) calls scrap iron I call treasure,” Brown added. He collects old threshers and other historic farm equipment to preserve their history.
“At one time it was, Albert, it’s 2013 now,” Mr. Duff countered.
Coun. Keith Beebe agreed historical equipment is important to preserve, but it needs to be done in a more attractive fashion.
“It’s pretty unsightly from the roadway,” agreed county peace officer Les Squires. He believes the Duffs are correct in saying much of the equipment is more related to the oilfield rather than agricultural.
Councillors who are familiar with the state of the property agree it’s an eyesore.