News

Ont. farmer wins $100Gs road salt lawsuit

By Barbara Simpson, Sarnia Observer

Road salt. (MARK WANZEL/QMI Agency)

Road salt. (MARK WANZEL/QMI Agency)

SARNIA, Ont. - A Lambton County farmer has been awarded more than $100,000 in damages in a potentially precedent-setting lawsuit involving a municipal government's use of road salt.

"We're talking about a very serious precedent here," Joe Tiernay, executive director of the Ontario Good Roads Association that represents nearly 450 municipalities, said. "It just opens the floodgates."

Brooke-Alvinston farmer Joseph Steadman and his wife Evelyn claim they have suffered crop losses leading to the depreciation in value of their 96-acre farm thanks to the County of Lambton's use of road salt.

County road crews are responsible for spreading salt to melt ice along Nauvoo Road that borders the Steadman farm.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled in favour of the Steadmans in Sarnia last Friday, awarding them a total of $107,352 in damages.

This includes $56,700 for the depreciation in value of their property and $45,000 for crop losses from 1998 to 2013.

"To me, (a decision like this) is unprecedented in Lambton and I believe in Ontario," county solicitor David Cribbs said Wednesday.

The ramifications of this case could be far-reaching into other Ontario municipalities that use road salt to melt ice, Cribbs noted.

He described the decision as putting "the personal good over the public good."

Lambton County councillors asked staff Wednesday to circulate the decision to the Association of Municipalities Ontario and the Ontario Good Roads Association.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the decision poses "significant ramifications" for Ontario municipalities where salt is "still the most effective way" to treat roads during winter.

"I believe when this goes out to the municipalities, there will be a good deal of concern," he said.

The Steadmans produced videos and photos, as well as the expertise of environmental and crop scientists, to support their claims during the 12-day hearing last spring.

But the county's liability is "way worse" if it doesn't put down road salt, Jim Kutyba, the county's general manager of infrastructure and development services, said.

Tiernay said Wednesday his board would likely be seeking an opinion from legal counsel on how to move forward.

barbara.simpson@sunmedia.ca

-- With files from Dan Brown


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