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Helga Township farmer loses in excavation case

A Helga Township farmer has been dealt a blow by a Ninth Judicial Court ruling that states he must stop excavating his land and restore it to the township’s satisfaction.

     The long-running dispute has placed Doug Crosby against the township’s zoning board for three years. The ruling was issued Monday.

     Crosby began excavating his hilly land in order to raise cattle, he claimed. Township officers claimed he was illegally operating an excavation business without the proper permits from the township.

     Crosby claimed any excavation was incidental to the primary purpose of making the land tillable for custom grazing paddocks.

     During several hearings, the township attorney stated it likely would have denied an Interim Use Permit for the excavation.

     Crosby fought on even though Judge Robert Tiffany, who issued the final order and a temporary restraining order in between, questioned whether Crosby was straining the definition of an agricultural operation.

     “Doesn’t taking hundreds, thousands of acres of soil strain the reasonable interpretation of farming?” the judge asked during one hearing.

     Hawlet attorney Zenas Baer had rgued the township was using “bootstrap logic” to bolster its case.

     Tillage equipment is necessary to prepare the land for custom grazing paddocks. To do that, some excavation and truck activity must occur, he said. Further, the ordinance actually prohibits the issuance of an interim use permit, which the township zoning requires.

     Tiffany, in his ruling, rejected those arguments.

     He found that Crosby’s contract with a local construction company, which was purchasing dirt and rock from the land, constituted illegal earthen hauling, not ground preparation.

     The cease and desist order took effect in 2012, but when Crosby threatened to violate the order to stop dredging on the property, the township countered with an injunctive lawsuit.

     Judge Tiffany sided with the township, finding that the excavation activities were just that – excavation.

     It is unclear if Baer will pursue the case further. A call to his office Tuesday was not returned. Crosby could not be reached for comment.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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