Billings property owners’ lawyer warns Snowdusters off major trail

Club denies intentional trespass

BILLINGS—The much contested Fraser Road, until recently part of the Manitoulin Snowdusters snowmobile trail system, was opened and groomed last week—an action that has caused lawyers to put pen to paper leaving the Snowdusters slapped with an official cease and desist edict.

Last week while the trails were being groomed, according to Snowdusters spokesperson Brad Middleton, the West End groomer while taking its usual route came upon the new gate at Fraser Road opened and with snowmobile tracks running across it. The groomer driver took his clues from this and decided to run his machine along the trail as per usual.

Late last week, the Snowdusters received a letter from Nathaniel T. Oelsner on behalf of the Sudbury law firm Conroy Trebb Scott Hurtubise LLP. “It has come to our attention that the gates which have been set up on the respondent’s private property have had their locks severed and a snowmobile groomer has been through the area,” the letter states.

“As you are well aware as demonstrated by your affidavit and your article in The Manitoulin Expositor, Fraser Road is involved in an ongoing court action in which the Township (of Billings) is seeking to have it be declared that Fraser Road is a public road. The fact that the Township feels that it must have this court action in order to have the road declared a public road would logically indicate that this road is a private road in its current state. We have reason to believe that an individual from your club has groomed this area as a groomer is a specialized piece of equipment that very few people have access to. Accordingly, we demand that all trespassing on Fraser Road by any member of the Manitoulin Snowdusters Snowmobile Club cease immediately.”

“At this time we will be relocking the gates on the Fraser Road and recommend strongly that your club or any agents of the club stay away from the road until such a time as the status of Fraser Road has been decided,” the letter continues. “If at any time following this letter we discover that the locks on Fraser Road have been cut and either a groomer or snowmobile has driven down Fraser Road, we will be considering all legal options available to us including, but not limited to, seeking damages from your club and its members for property damage and trespassing.”

“Consider this letter notice and warning that should any accident occur on Fraser Road and it be discovered that any members from your club were involved in either the breaking of the gates and/or the grooming of the trail, your club may be found liable for the resulting damages which could be in the millions of dollars depending on the accident.”

“Nobody from the Snowdusters opened that gate,” Snowdusters President Doran McVey emphatically told The Expositor. “The gates were open, so we went through.”

As for the finger pointing, Mr. McVey responded, “they’re only guessing—they’re just accusations.”

Randy Noble of H&R Noble Construction has been renting a gravel pit from the Elsner family of Minneapolis, accessible only through the Fraser Road, for a number of years. His current five-year lease expires in 2017.

He told The Expositor that he accesses the pit only two times a year—in the spring and in the fall—so as not to disturb the residents of the road. He then keeps the gravel at his Highway 540 Kagawong depot.

Mr. Noble said he knew it was only a matter of time before the dispute came to a head, pointing to one incident about five years ago that saw one of the Fraser Road property owners lay down in the road and block the access with her car, refusing to let Mr. Noble pass. The police were then called.

“There are some residents who are almost landlocked down there,” Mr. Noble said of Fraser Road. “Who’s to say that the people of M’Chigeeng won’t follow suit and block access at their end (of the road)?” he questioned.

Mr. Noble doubted that this would be resolved by spring and that he would not be hauling from the Fraser Road gravel pit as long as the gate is locked, calling it an “inconvenience.”