Brooke Alvinston farmer wins road salt damage case

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A truck takes the turn on Nauvoo Road between Watford and Alvinston

It’s a court case that could affect the way Ontario’s roads are cleared in the winter.

A Brooke-Alvinston farmer has won a $100,000 judgment after saying the salt Lambton County used to clear Nauvoo Road caused damage to his farmland and is making it tough for him to sell.

Joseph and Evelyn Maxwell began noticing the salt damage in 2008 on their farm between Watford and Alvinston. Nauvoo Road curves around their land and the property owners believe the spray from transports carried the salt from the road area into their fields.

In court, Steadman says parts of his field were “white with salt.” He brought in experts to test the soil and convinced an Ontario Justice his yields were hampered by the residue.

Justice Carey awarded the family just over $100,000 for lower crop yields, the cost of analyzing the soil and the diminished value of his property. The Steadman’s have their farm for sale and so far have had to reduce the price by over $300,000.

The ruling has county officials worried. The insurance company will pay the claim but County Solicitor David Cribbs is concerned about what this will mean for road operations.

This case “really gives no serious consideration to the fact that the county, as road authority, has no choice but to use salt and sand to ensure road safety,” Cribbs writes in a report to council. “This has implications for rural municipalities all over Ontario.”

Jim Kutyba, general manager of infrastructure and development, agrees. “The judge didn’t give much credence to the public safety argument,” he says. “The liability of not doing it is way higher of not salting.”

Kutyba says years ago, plow operators would apply salt without any measurement using their own experience as a guide. Now, each truck is equipped with “a piece of equipment that tells us how much salt is going off the back,” he says.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley recommended the court case be circulated to other municipalities who could face the same type of action.

Lambton County officials are hopeful the insurance company will appeal the case.