*Editors note: This story contains audio of the outburst by Athol resident Joe Surman that led to Mayor Robert Quaiff requesting the OPP be called to Shire Hall Tuesday night.
A contentious dispute between neighbours over closing a historic right-of-way to the Outlet Beach escalated at County council Tuesday night resulting in the Ontario Provincial Police being called to escort an Athol Ward resident out of chambers.
At issue, is that the municipality is in the process of taking steps to extinguish any remaining claim and interest in a 100-year-old public road or right- of-way between County Road 18 and the Outlet Beach that runs over resident Steve Conley’s property. In January 2017, staff were contacted by a resident who advised that the historic right-of-way had been closed by Conley. The resident requested the County take action and restore the right-of-way. Staff and the County Solicitor investigated the matter and formed the opinion that while there may have been an old road or right-of-way, the County has since been extinguished or rendered ineffective by the creation of Sandbanks Provincial Park. By extinguishing any claim, the road will fall on the Conley’s property however several neighbours are claiming they have access to the pathway through their deeds.
On Tuesday, a handful of neighbours spoke out against getting rid of the right-of-way stating it is used by about 30 residents as a walking path to the Outlet and Sandbanks Provincial Park. Resident Joe Surman told council Conley was ‘disrupting’ people from using it by taking different measures to block access. He called the path an asset to the County as it provides an opening to the park. Shawn Cowan also spoke out against the fencing accusing Conley of moving a Native burial ground on his property. He said he has called the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to investigate the matter.
Conley and his wife Brenda addressed the horseshoe stating how there has been a complete ‘lack of respect’ shown by those who use the path and it has resulted in ‘bitter feelings’ between them and their neighbours. Brenda Conley said there has been garbage left, fences torn, trespassing, break and enters, small fires in the woods, confrontations with tourists and parking issues. Brenda Conley said they have called the OPP several times relating to different matters and were advised to put up a fence deterring access to the park.
When Athol Ward councillor Jamie Forrester was speaking during discussion time about the park looking to fence up the majority of access points in the County, including the one on County Road 18, Surman began yelling out at him in opposition. Surman was warned several times by Mayor Robert Quaiff that he was out of order and was told to leave the chambers.
Surman was escorted out of the meeting before the OPP arrived. Officers were seen walking through the upper halls of Shire Hall but didn’t enter council chambers. Quinte News made a follow-up phone call to the OPP to investigate the outcome of the outburst if any.
Following the meeting Mayor Robert Quaiff said he had never seen anything like that outburst during his tenure on council. “It’s unfortunate that something like this had to happen,” said Quaiff. “It’s very disrespectful. Sometimes it leads you to no other course but having to call the authorities.”
He said he still thinks it’s a wise decision to get out of the matter. He said the news about a native burial ground on Conely’s property is brand new astonishing news.
“When that issue comes to the forefront I think you have to do everything in your power to make sure the rules are followed and not broken,” he said.
In the end council opted to defer the matter to staff to retain further advise from legal counsel and the Ministry of Natural Resources.