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  Drainage debacle
By Tom VanDusen - AgriNews Staff Writer

On the surface, common farm drainage is such a simple concept.

At some point the drain, usually an uncovered ditch, is installed and at regular intervals, neighbors benefiting from its presence share maintenance costs.

But under the surface... things can go so horribly wrong!

Witness what has been called the "tortuous saga" of the infamous MacLennan Drain in former Lochiel Township, now part of the amalgamated municipality of North Glengarry.

Twenty five years later, controversy raging around that drain still isn't unplugged. North Glengarry council has taken a massive stab at it, but in so doing, a sizeable chunk of ratepayers has been left feeling alienated and threatening legal action.

The Lochiel Ratepayers' Association wants satisfaction following a council-endorsed settlement that awarded $200,000 to North Glengarry's farming MacSweyn family in a dispute which began in 1975 with a typically innocent drain improvement project.

While the association objects to the amount of the settlement, it realizes nothing can be done

about it, said treasurer Carmin Howes. It also objects to the lengthy apology issued to the

MacSweyns by North Glengarry mayor Grant Crack but allows that is also over and done with.

But the association is strongly resisting a decision that much of the $200,000 tab should be picked up exclusively by ratepayers in former Lochiel Township - where the drainage battle was waged - which has since been merged into North Glengarry.

The association's position is that all ratepayers of the amalgamated municipality should help defray the costs because North Glengarry as a whole took over all assets and liabilities of Lochiel.

Problems arising from the MacLennan drainage work led to a quarter century of repairs,

engineers reports, new construction, countless meetings, hearings, judgements, and injunctions,

all of which cost an estimated $635,000.

It culminated in a recent ruling under the Ontario Drainage Act by referee Delbert

O'Brien that the MacLellan Drain installation and subsequent modifications were severely


Since announcement of the settlement, the MacSweyns, who as a result of the shabby work suffered extensive farm damage and financial losses, were back before O'Brien recently seeking further redress.

In a published declaration, Crack extended to the family his regret the former Township of

Lochiel failed to discharge its duty under The Drainage Act, causing hardship over 25 years.

Crack also issued his "sincerest apology" for the actions of the former township that contributed

to the community "calling into question the integrity of the late Ralph McSweyn, including

suggesting that he and other members of the McSweyn family were authors of their own


Howes and other association members are peeved that Crack, on behalf of the current council, would issue such a powerful indictment of their former township although he wasn't around when original decisions were made.

In his public statement, Crack said North Glengarry council was thrust into the position of having to resolve under court direction the dispute which had "grown uncontrollably".

It approached the debacle from three directions, complying with a court order to fix the drain, attempting to mediate with the MacSweyns, and investigating ways of covering the cost of the settlement before assessing ratepayers of former Lochiel.

Underlying everything were court decisions that the Township of Lochiel was responsible for the faulty installation and had failed in its obligation under the drainage and municipal acts to fix the problem and end the dispute.

Crack insisted council "took the high road" without favor to any particular person and dealt with the necessary procedures in a "confident and realistic manner". Council also ensured that "no claim of bias could be made or even hinted at in bringing to an end a tortuous saga."

"Council hopes that families, friends and neighbors in North Glengarry, and in particular in the ward of Lochiel, will support council's decision to bring closure to an extremely difficult and divisive issue."

Not quite yet, Grant, says the Lochiel Ratepayers Association.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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