Roadside fence disputes are crook up at Crooked River

AN ongoing dispute over a road on his Crooked River property has farmer Keith Mills has accusing the Wellington Shire Council of being “set in concrete”.

Earlier in the year Mr Mills received two infringement notices because his stock strayed onto the shire owned road.

However Mr Mills said because the road easement’s surveyed location and the actual road do not align it leaves him unable to fence parts of his boundary. He argues the boundaries need to be clearly defines before he spends considerable sums of money carrying out fencing that may have to be torn down and relocated.

Wellington Shire chief executive officer David Morcom told the Gippsland Times Mr Mill’s land was intersected by an isolated section of Wonnangatta Rd, “which has long been a public road, formed over 50 years ago”.

Mr Mills purchased the property in 2000 and raised the issue of the discrepancy between the easement and the roadway with shire officers in 2006.

Despite having raised the issue with the council on a number of occasions, in the hope of resolving the matter, Mr Mills said he was this year issued with close to $560 worth of fines for allowing his cattle to stray onto the roadway, where it was within his property.

When the matter of the infringement notices was deferred in July and his penalty notices placed on hold, while the council sort professional advice, Mr Mills had high hopes the matter would be cleared up and his fines dropped by the end of August.

However, last month, according to Mr Mills, the council reinstated his fines and told him of a legal clause which allowed them to place the road on his land.

A clause, he said, it seemed council only found out about in retrospect.

Since then Mr Mills has phoned a number of council departments seeking an answer.

“What gives council the right to fine me for having cattle on my own land,” he has asked.

Mr Mills said he also phoned police from the Wellington Highway Patrol at Sale to ask about possible legal grey holes that might occur in the event a car broke down on the side of the road ,on what is still his land.

While police could not give Mr Mills a definitive answer, it is possible that Mr Mills could be held legally and financially responsible for the removal of any vehicles that came to stop on his property.

Similarly, Mr Mills said, there was confusion for the police about whether unregistered recreational vehicles on the road were on private property or not.

While the matter was still being negotiated Mr Mills said council came up with three possible options to resolve the issue.

The first, moving the road, was deemed unfeasible and ruled out by both parties.

The second proposal, to adjust the land title boundary, was one Mr Mills was happy to support.

However, Mr Mills said, the council opted for the third option of “do nothing”, which, he said, failed to resolve the issue of him being unable to fence his boundary and keep his stock off the road, adding that it could cause further problems down the track if he ever decided to sell his land.

“The shire want to get out with the least expense to the shire,” Mr Mills said, frustrated with the decision.

He said he was now considering making a claim for damages done to his property as a result of recent roadworks, an option he originally told council he would waver, in the hope it would help them reach an amicable decision.

Mr Mills said when the road was recently graded large rocks had flattened sections of fence on the steep downhill side of his property.

Should he go down this avenue, Mr Mills said he would use any pay-out to employ a surveyor to look at his land, something, he said, should really be up to council.

Mr Mills is also considering taking the matter to the ombudsman.

Council employees visited Mr Mill’s property last Monday to discuss his concerns and work towards an amicable solution.

While there they were shown the road and the damage Mr Mills alleges workmen did to the property’s fencing.

Mr Mills said, after seeing the road council employees acknowledged that things clearly weren’t right, but didn’t or couldn’t offer any form of conciliation.

“In order to avoid costs, this seems like a problem the shire does not appear willing to fix,” Mr Mills said, adding “common sense needs to prevail”.

Mr Morcom said, at the conclusion of the recent meeting, council representatives had agreed to investigate several matters “in pursuit of the most appropriate outcome”.

This includes, Mr Morcom said, liability and legal concerns raised by Mr Mills, details of past surveying undertaken by a surveyor engaged by Mr Mills and the feasibility of land transfers.

“As the above items required further follow up, it was agreed that council would continue to communicate with Mr Mills so that we could determine the most appropriate resolution,” Mr Morcom said.