Frontenac County sued over ferry decision

Court Application Alleges Illegal Conduct by Council

TORONTO, March 14, 2017 /CNW/ - A judicial review application has been launched in the Ontario Divisional Court against the County of Frontenac ( "County" ). The four applicants are residents of Howe Island. The claim alleges that County Council ( "Council" ) illegally failed to consider or allow public input based on its incorrect belief and legal advice that it has no authority to restrict farm related vehicles using the Howe Island County ferry ( "ferry" ) during peak travel periods.

In 2003, the County implemented "rush hour" restrictions limiting all heavy vehicles traveling in the early morning from 6:30 am to 8:30 am to the mainland and in the late afternoon from 4 pm to 6 pm traveling to Howe Island giving unrestricted access to heavy vehicles 22 hours a day each way. Rush hour restrictions functioned well for more than a decade. An attempt by a few islanders to remove the restrictions was rejected by the County in 2007. However, late in 2016 a small group of farmers complained. Council chose not to hold any public consultation. Instead, following a closed-door meeting where Council received confidential legal advice, staff were directed to follow the legal opinion of its lawyer and all restrictions on farm related vehicles were removed that same day on the County website.

Shortly after the November 2016 closed door meeting, the County held a meeting in late December, where North Frontenac Councillor John Inglis in an interview with a Kingston Whig Standard reporter said, "I'm quite surprised, as of today, that for 13 years the restrictions have been in place and nobody raised a flag... How is it that we suddenly discover we're doing something illegal? That process makes me kind of suspicious." Inglis went on to say, "Why did we put this in closed session in the first place."

Stephen Sorensen, who resides on Howe Island, said, "It should be noted that John Inglis voted against lifting ferry restrictions and his dutiful questions and suspicions were a breath of fresh air for us folks on Howe Island." George Thomson, another Howe Island resident, said, "This issue affects all the residents of Howe Island and the Council's decision here took away any opportunity for discussion about whether it makes sense to change this long-standing, limited restriction. The implications of this approach extend well beyond this particular decision."

The applicants now challenging Council's decision are represented by Jeff Cowan (Toronto), a leading administrative law lawyer, Eric Gillespie (Toronto), with extensive experience representing public and community interests in numerous cases including class actions, and Kurtis Andrews (Ottawa), who focuses on agricultural law issues across Ontario.

"Council had jurisdiction to control the operations of the ferry, and to balance the interests of all ratepayers, by imposing the restrictions in 2003. They were not illegal," said Jeff Cowan. Cowan went on to say that, "Decades ago the Ontario government recognized that municipal bylaws may affect farming operations, and if individual farmers are unhappy, there is the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board they can apply to if they legitimately require an exemption from the restrictions. It appears Council incorrectly believed it had no choice but to immediately direct staff to have the very limited restrictions removed."

Terry Botten, a Howe Island resident, said, "I don't know why Council didn't consider the time critical needs of working families and their quality of life over the delivery of time tolerant agricultural products. Peak travel periods and rush hours are recognized all over the world, why not on Howe Island?" Bill Robertson, a long time Howe Island resident, wanted to reassure the farming community, stating, "the application has been initiated to correct the serious mistakes made by Council. The application is not aimed at or against farmers; it is an application in favour of correctness and fairness."

About the County of Frontenac and the Frontenac Howe Islander Ferry

Frontenac County is subdivided into four municipalities which include the Townships of Frontenac Islands (Wolfe and Howe Island), North Frontenac, Central Frontenac, and South Frontenac.

County Council includes two representatives from each of the four townships. The County offer a range of services to the townships which include managing the ferry in conjunction with the Provincial Ministry of Transport who own the ferry.

The ferry holds 15 vehicles, runs 24/7, and will take heavy vehicles during rush hour periods if there is room. During rush hours, the restriction on heavy trucks is that their weight will not exceed 21 tonnes, be no more than 28 feet long, and must fit on the ferry with 14 other vehicles. Commercial vehicle restrictions during non-rush hour travel time are limited to 45 metric tonnes with a load length of 95 feet. As a result of the County's recent decision to lift ferry restrictions, any farm related vehicles including vehicles of that maximum size and weight can be loaded during rush hours, which in some cases will take up the entire ferry. Restrictions on non farming heavy vehicles still apply during rush hour.

SOURCE Eric K. Gillespie Professional Corporation

For further information: Eric Gillespie at 416-703-6362 or egillespie@gillespielaw.ca

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