Farmer successfully contests wetland designation of his land by Conservation Authority
By Jean-Paul McDonald
In a landmark decision, Peter Archer, a Campbellford crop farmer, and grain elevator operator, won a four-year legal battle against the Lower Trent River Conservation Authority.
This case stands as a significant victory for farmers, underscoring the importance of proper land classification and the protection of farming rights against regulatory overreach.
The conflict started when the authority wrongly designated 10 acres of Archer's dry land as a wetland.
Archer was unaware of the wetland classification until almost completing the clearing of dead trees on his land, a task initiated due to ash borer damage. The conservation authority pursued legal action against Archer, based on questionable evidence, including photographs taken after days of heavy rainfall.
However, in court, Justice of the Peace Leona Dombrowsky, a former Ontario Minister of Agriculture, acquitted Archer on all eight charges. The verdict was based on evidence from an agrologist, biologist, and arborist hired by Archer, who concluded that the area could not qualify as a wetland due to extensive drainage.
Jacob Damftra, Archer's lawyer, argued that the conservation authority overstepped its boundaries, intervening in standard farming practices such as soil cultivation. He emphasized that the land had never been officially classified as a wetland and failed to meet the necessary criteria for such a designation.
The decision, hailed as crucial for the agricultural community, clarifies the definitions of "wetland" and "development" in the Conservation Act. It highlights that normal agricultural activities do not constitute illegal development.
A representative from the Ontario Landowners' Association criticized the conservation authority's overreach into farming practices. Farmers beware, while the case is important, it might not set a precedent against similar future actions by conservation authorities.