After 24 years, CBRM committee set to make its first ruling

After 24 years, Cape Breton Regional Municipality's fences arbitration committee is set to make its first ruling.

The committee has only met once before — in 2011 — when a resident complained about property damage from his neighbour's livestock.

However, the committee folded soon after, when legal staff said CBRM did not have the authority to deal with the issue.

Since then, Nova Scotia's Municipal Government Act has changed and municipalities must handle complaints under the Fences and Detention of Stray Livestock Act.

Under the law, municipalities can order a property owner to fix a fence, or have it done and add it to their taxes.

CBRM revived its committee this week to deal with a complaint about farm animals causing damage in a rural residential subdivision in Mill Creek.

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Keith Sullivan, of Spruce Meadow Drive, said his neighbour's livestock continually jump the fence and destroy his yard.

"When you have them that close behind you, that's OK if the fence is good," said Sullivan.

"I can't see them staying in with that fence the way it is."

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Donald MacNeil, who runs the family beef cattle operation next door, said his livestock sometimes get out, but he repairs the fence regularly.

"With livestock you can never 100 per cent guarantee that there'll be no problems, but we are doing our level best," he said.

Deputy mayor Ivan Doncaster chairs the committee and its only other member is Arnie Verschuren of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.

Doncaster said the committee listened to both sides and went out to look at the fence in question. He said the members need to deliberate before making a ruling in the next couple of weeks.

"It's like baby steps," Doncaster said. "We're working through the whole process."

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Doncaster was a member of the fences arbitration committee for the old Cape Breton County, before it amalgamated with several towns and became a regional municipality in 1995.

The committee didn't meet often back then, he said, because farmers usually look after their fences.

"It's typically not a big problem, if they're put up properly," Doncaster said.

A couple of CBRM councillors have said they expect the new committee will be busy with complaints, but Doncaster said the municipality is not the best place to deal with livestock fencing issues.

"I think really it should be dealt with through the Department of Agriculture," he said.

"It's an agricultural issue and we don't have very much agricultural land in this area like we used to have."