Court of Revision denies all Szeder Drain appeals

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer

In the first sitting of the Court of Revision last Tuesday, landowners in the Szeder Drain’s watershed argued their assessed amounts. The Court decided that no appeals were valid enough to accept.

Frank Szeder and his brother Stefan, who own land in Emo and LaVallee, petitioned to have a municipal drain installed to benefit their property. In accordance with the Drainage Act, Emo appointed an engineer who prepared a report on the proposed drain, including how the costs will be shared. Landowners in the watershed were assessed based on how much their properties were expected to benefit from the drain.

The Court of Revision is an appeal stage where landowners can voice their objections on assessments. The Court cannot change the drain’s design or location, only the amounts assessed. The project’s total estimated cost must remain the same, so for any accepted appeals, the assessments must be reallocated elsewhere.

Appeals to the Court must be made on at least one of three grounds — an assessment is too high or low, land that should have been assessed was not, or the assessed land’s use was not given due consideration.

Landowners submitted seven appeals in last Tuesday’s Court of Revision, including five from the Szeders. All of them were dismissed.

The Szeders were assessed $21,313; $69,747; $69,591; $90,404; and $38,611 for five respective lots totalling $289,666 — 71.85 per cent of the drain’s cost.

Paul Courey, a lawyer representing the Szeders made five appeals on their behalf, requesting $99,700 of their assessed costs be reallocated to the Emo municipality.

Courey said the drain has had its installation delayed by Council while its price has meanwhile ballooned.

“The passage of time has inflated its cost astronomically,” he said. “This problem was caused by Emo, it should be paid for by Emo.”

The township of Emo was assessed $75,437 — 18.71 per cent of the total.

“It’s been 13 years now since the Szeders signed the petition,” said Courey. “The [engineer’s] report only came out after Szeder initiated litigation to compel it to come out.”

Courey reminded the Court — Emo Councillor Warren Toles, Mayor Harold McQuaker, and LaVallee Reeve Ken McKinnon — that they need to think independently, and not as councillors.

“You should judge these assessments by what is fair and reasonable,” he said. “You’ve got a bylaw in front of you with assessments. You’re hearing their pros and cons, and you have to make a decision. I urge you to do that.”

Reeve McKinnon asked if the delay was the main reason for appeal.

“I won’t say it’s the main concern. It’s a concern because the costs have escalated because of the delay,” said Courey. “We can argue about whose fault that is, but the fact is the costs are far greater than they would have been in any normal timeframe.”

Courey added that an equally if not more important concern was that the engineer’s 2021 report had been referred back, and that it was not requested by Szeder.

“They came back with a different drain, so to speak, and that added more costs to Szeder,” he said. “It appears that Emo asked for that, because Szeder certainly didn’t.”

Reeve McKinnon replied that he thinks the engineer assessed everyone fairly, and that the drain’s delay impacts all property owners the same as the Szeders.

Another affected landowner, Mike Sheppard was assessed $6,544 for a drain he said he doesn’t want.

Sheppard, the highest-assessed individual apart from the Szeders, argued their assessed value on lot 046. He said the ditch would drain the whole quarter section, and their assessment should therefore be increased.

He also proposed an idea to prevent the drain from impacting his land.

“I’ve asked this several times. Frank agreed to it once, and now he will not contact me,” said Sheppard. “I asked for the road access to be put on the north side of his property adjoining mine. That would stop all watershed from my property from going into the ditch.”

He said if this went through, he should be assessed for no benefit or direct outage.

At this, Court member Warren Toles noted that redesign was beyond the scope of the Court.

“We’re only supposed to be dealing with assessments,” he said. “And now we’re getting into reconstruction. I didn’t think that was our mandate in this Court of Revision.”

Reeve McKinnon said that was his understanding as well.

“The only authority I felt we had was dealing with assessments. I don’t feel we have the authority to alter the design of the drain,” he said. “I understood there was a process through the [Drainage] Act — you’d go through the various steps where you deal with the design and the watershed area, but I felt like we’re beyond that.”

Sheppard claimed he was never informed the drain had been approved.

Emo’s special projects manager Doug Brown assured him that after the provisional bylaw was passed, he was notified.

John Kuntze, the engineer who prepared the report told Sheppard that he is still able to alter the drain’s design, but that appeal must be made to the Drainage Tribunal, rather than the Court of Revision.

The Court dismissed one other appeal. Keith Barker, who was assessed $1,204 did not attend the meeting, and as a result had his appeal denied.

Shannon Bowcock, another landowner in the watershed was denied a late appeal attempt. She failed to submit an official appeal notice within the 10-day requirement leading up to the Court’s seating.

She said Council’s messages on her surface well have been contradictory.

“I was told several times in both meetings that I attended that [the drain] wouldn’t affect any of the watershed off my property, it wouldn’t affect my well, then maybe it will affect my well, and now I’m paying for it. That’s part of why I’m concerned,” she said. “I’m also concerned for the use of my land, if it’s going to change any of the watershed from it. We have a farmer that feeds his cows off our field, and we hunt. We use our property quite fully.”

Bowcock, who was assessed $294 said she was not included in the original engineer’s report, and should not have been added.

“I don’t have any ability to tie into this drain,” she said. “I know it’s a very small amount, but it’s an amount that goes to my life, my kids.”

The Court dismissed her late attempt on the grounds that they deal with appeals on assessments only.

All appellants are to receive written notices of the Court’s decisions. They have the ability to appeal the Court’s rulings to the Drainage Tribunal. The Tribunal’s decision is final.

Affected property owners who did not appeal were T. Gagne & S. Firth, R. & B. Brigham, W. & M. Gelderblom, J.-P. & J. Gagnon, and G. Lalonde. These landowners’ assessed amounts make up a collective 2.62 per cent of the drain’s cost at $10,580.

Kuntze’s cost estimate is made up of four categories — $13,600 for allowances, $246,770 for construction, $133,410 for engineering, and $9,370 for non-administrative costs for a $403,150 total.