Divisive surplus land cause of ‘hostile situation’ for Napanee farmers

The abandoned rail line looking north across Highway 401. Millspring Farms can be seen in the distance (top right). Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

A “hostile situation” of bullying and harassment has followed the Town of Greater Napanee’s decision to declare surplus the former CN railbed owned by the town, according to Mark Hamel and Dave Milligan of Millspring Farms.

At a council meeting for the Township of Stone Mills on Monday, May 1, 2023, Milligan stated that he and other landowners with property abutting the land in question had no idea the land was going to be made surplus, calling the decision by the Napanee Council “as much of a surprise to us as it was to many others.”

The land in question is the former CN railbed north of Highway 401, part of which is owned by the town of Napanee; it crosses over into Stone Mills Township, continuing on to one private property and then the Strathcona Paper factory. Recently, a number of individuals and a group called Napanee Active Transportation Allies (NATA) have been advocating for the land to connect to the Cataraqui Trail, which begins just hundreds of metres away.

However, Milligan said that things have gotten less than neighbourly since the Napanee Council suddenly declared the land surplus. “Since that moment, the online attitude, the bullying, the misinformation towards our family, the Sutton family [whose farm also abuts the line], has been unbelievable. These people call themselves allies? The bully tactics… the drones flying over in our backyards, taking pictures during birthday parties for kids… it’s ridiculous. This has turned into a very hostile situation.“

Milligan further stated that some local newspapers “only print what these people [NATA] are spewing to them. They are not asking for the whole story.”

Milligan and Hamel were present at the Stone Mills council meeting, asking Stone Mills not to support the connection of the Napanee-owned surplus property to the Cataraqui Trail, as the property in question runs directly through their farm.

Milligan described the farm, saying, “We milk purebred Holstein cows. We sell the milk to the local dairies in the area… products that are on everyone’s shelves and fridges. We also produce corn, soybeans, and barley, which then get sold for further processing and wind up on many of your shelves as cereal.”

Having a public trail, he said, “running essentially through our farm, splitting our fields, our barns, and running within very close proximity to a lot of our animals… our biosecurity would be totally lost as a result of this.”

“I realize the Cataraqui Trail works very well in [Stone Mills],” he continued, acknowledging two other pro-trail deputations from earlier in the evening. “Your area has a lot of people that respect the trail, the residents respect the trail. We live next to Napanee and [the Highway] 401 corridor, which has a lot of people that don’t respect a whole heck of a lot, to be honest. It’s kind of like the 90/10 rule: 90 per cent of the residents are very good. They’re community-minded. They’re passionate about the area. And there’s the 10 per cent that don’t care about anything. With our proximity to town, we deal with the 10 percent.” 

Milligan described thefts of property on his farm, “mainly as a result of this rail line, because it is an access point for our farm. If the finished trail is opened up, it turns into a highway through our farm that will compromise it, our safety, our family safety, our worker safety.”

“There is no breathing room for any accidents whatsoever,” Milligan went on. “I understand the benefits… there’s tons of benefits to active living and being physically active… But it does not have to run through our farm [and] Rob Sutton’s farm. It will wreck our business. We will be done.”

Deputy Reeve Doug Davison spoke from his own experience, having been Stone Mills Township’s representative on the board of the Cataraqui Trail “for the better part of 15 years.”

“I’m an active trail supporter,” Davison said. “Over the years, conceptually we have talked on a number of occasions about how we would extend the trail to Napanee, to [gain] benefits for Napanee and for everybody else… I was present at the council meeting… when the presentation was made a month ago, and listened to your presentation, and I sympathize and agree with what you had to say.”

In the Millspring Farms presentation, there was a photo of the K&P trail in Kingston, which showed a great deal of garbage built up on and around the trail. Davison commented, “For the same reason as that picture you showed, I believe with the socio-economic problem in the urban area, you have an issue that needs to be addressed for the security of your operation, and your safety.”

“If we’d had our ‘druthers’ way back when, maybe the whole rail bed would have been a trail, but it isn’t… I’m not here to tell Napanee what to do. I’m just here to tell people that the extension or connection of the trail has some issues that need to be addressed,” Davison continued.

“What I would like to suggest, is everybody [be] involved… not one person, but everybody. This is a good thing for the community if it could be made to work while we address everybody’s concerns… People need to hit the pause button… take a deep breath, and then come together and say, ‘Is there a way we can accomplish this?’… People need to take time to do it. And I would really hope nobody ends up being enemies over this. Because none of you deserve it… Some people want one benefit, some people want security, and I just would like to see people say, ‘How can we make this work?’”

Reeve John Wise made it clear both at the council meeting and in a phone call with Kingstonist that “the Cataraqui Trail is a wonderful facility or asset… It’s used by people in our township, and neighbouring municipalities, people come in and walk or bike the trail, and snowmobilers use it in the winter and cross-country skiers… It brings people into the township. Businesses in Camden East and Yarker benefit from that foot traffic… The most important benefit of it is just the well-being of the people that use it. It’s great to have that sort of facility.”

“As far as the controversy in Napanee goes,” Wise went on, “Stone Mills leaves those decisions up to Napanee. It’s not our business. Obviously, if something could be worked out and a trail can be developed in Napanee and somehow connected to the Cataraqui Trail that runs through Stone Mills, that would simply enhance the benefits that we already derive from the trail system. But we really don’t have a dog in the fight. [At our latest council meeting] there was some back and forth and discussion, but we made no resolution or comment other than to say we hope Napanee and its residents can come to some amicable solution.”

This is an ongoing story with more to come. The Town of Greater Napanee will hold a public meeting on this issue, on Thursday, May 11, 2023.

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