By Patrick Meagher
KITCHENER — A rural landowner in Waterloo region who used a dump truck and bulldozer to fill a man-made pond on his own land is appealing a 30-day jail sentence and $30,000 in fines handed out in Kitchener provincial court last month.
Fifty-six -year-old Jason Geil was sentenced and fined on Sept. 26.
Justice of the Peace James Zieglar ordered Geil to serve jail time on weekends as this was his second conviction for developing a “wetland” on his own property without authorization or permit. Zieglar told the court that jail time was necessary because fining Geil was not a deterrent.
Geil does not dispute that he was grading a three-acre corner of his 83-acres on Roseville Road in North Dumfries Township and across the road from Grand River golf course. The court learned that the Grand River Conservation Authority used a plane to fly overhead and take photos of Geil’s property and activity in February, 2018. A municipal planner used a drone on a neighbour’s property to record video of Geil grading the land.
Geil said he bought the land around 2004 and dug an irrigation pond in the area in question in 2006 to collect water from his land so that he could grow trees. He later decided to fill in the pond. He used dump trucks to haul in fill and used a bulldozer to spread it around. Geil told Farmers Forum that there was no wetland, or a wetland designation when he bought the property. “It wasn’t wet,” Geil said. “I made it wet. Up until 2006, there was no water there.”
Geil also argued that he was not notified that the corner section was a wetland until recently. However, he continued to work on the land. He said he has photos dating back to 1947 showing that there is no water on that part of the property. Ben English, a friend of Geil’s, testified that the “wetlands” between 2016 and 2018 were dry enough for his dirt bikes to drive over.
Geil also said that changing the designation from farmland to wetland devalues his property and “no one has compensated me for it. I was told I can’t touch it. It’s all agricultural land.”
Immediately after sentencing, Geil was taken to jail to complete paperwork and then released. He was ordered to return to jail to start weekend sentencing on Saturday morning, Oct. 5. He was to be released at about 5 p.m. the next day. He also hired a lawyer for his appeal. He was represented in provincial court by Grand Bend paralegal Bob Pattison, who told Farmers Forum that this is the first case that he knows of in which a rural property owner was given jail time for activity on his own property.
He added that there are many cases across Ontario of rural landowners being restricted when it comes to working their own land because of “wetland” designations. Often, the landowner doesn’t even know the land is a wetland until a conservation authority or township representative shows up, Pattison said.
Pattison noted that Geil lost an earlier case in which he asked the municipality to repair a drain adjacent to his property. Water filled the drainage ditch and overflowed onto the municipal road and his own property but when no help was offered, he repaired the drain himself, Pattison said. At about the same time, the drain was designated as a wetland, he added. Geil said that case dragged through the courts for six years and cost him about $100,000.
Ontario Landowner Association (OLA) president Jeff Bogaerts was disappointed by the jail sentence. “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat,” he said. “That’s way over the top.”
He said if you compare the sentence with a criminal code offence when there is a victim, Geil was treated unfairly. Some criminal code convictions don’t include jail time, he said.
He applauded, however, Minister of Environment Jeff Yurek’s letter to Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities in August telling them to “begin preparations and planning to wind down those activities that fall outside the scope of your core mandate.”
Conservation authorities have morphed into operating businesses such as parks, ski hills and golf courses while over-reaching and placing unfair restrictions on private landowners, Bogaerts said.
“The OLA supports the core mandate of conservation authorities to protect people and property from flooding and supports drainage and floodplain maps. We support restrictions on naturally-created wetlands, not restrictions on artificially-created wetlands.”
He added that: “If drainage were better managed there would be fewer convictions because there would be fewer artificial wetlands.”
Landowner gets 30-days in jail for “developing” a wetland on his own property
By Patrick Meagher