Essex loses lawsuit against Lewis Farms

ESSEX Salim Sandy Lewis has claimed victory in a lawsuit brought against Lewis Family Farms, Inc. for interfering with the drainage of Cross Road. Cross Road ruling issued
Lewis, who had two roads constructed running parallel to Cross Road to service farm machines, was sued by the town of Essex at the end of 2006. In the lawsuit, Essex officials argued that the new roads would interfere with drainage and snow removal. The lawsuit sought to stop all construction of private roads on areas of the farm adjacent to Cross Road in the towns right of way. But, earlier this month, Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark L. Powers ruled in Lewis favor. Essex County Judge James Dawson previously recused himself from the case. Although the testimony was uncontroverted that Cross Road in the area in question drained onto the field of the Lewis Family Farm for more than 10 years, Essex has failed to establish exclusive possession of the drainage area. Assuming arguendo Essex does not have a prescriptive easement, the proof failed to show that the construction of the farm roads has interfered with that easement, the drainage area off Cross Road, said Powers in the ruling. Farming road construction raises controversy
The land owned by Lewis Family Farms Inc. consists of approximately 12,000 acres. The farm produces organic and forage crops. Lewis has about 12 miles of roads constructed to serve the farm, including two elevated roads running next to Cross Road. At issue was a 1-1/2 mile stretch along Cross Road, an unpaved public highway owned by the town of Essex. In its lawsuit, the Essex Town Board argued that construction of Lewis farm roads encroached on a drainage ditch, threatened flooding, and blocked a culvert on Cross Road. Lewis, in turn, argued that the towns road maintenance techniques were interfering with his farm operations. He said the use of wollastonite mining tailings have damaged the farms soils. The town of Essex uses the tailings as a surface material. There are no problems with the farm's roads, anywhere, said Lewis, but town roads are a mess everywhere, which should be obvious to all. In actuality, our farm roads and extensive drainage help the public roads in several ways. Our rock roads reduce farm traffic, help to control run off both ways, and oblige the town to care of the poor road ditches. Our underground drainage has saved Whallons Bay Road. Lewis said the towns use of wollastonite for roadwork has made town roads unstable. He said the material, which is supplied free to the town, raises the acidity of farm soil and threatens public health. Essex is one of few towns that still use wollastonite mining tailings, said Lewis. The tailings cost the town nothing to buy, but the damage caused by the tailings is another matter, Lewis said. Personal motivation for lawsuit?
Lewis said the town lawsuit was brought because of personal resentment that Essex Supervisor Ronald Jackson has toward him. Jackson and Danny Sweatt of Middle Road, Willsboro, operated the Lewis farm sugarbush where maple sugar is made as partners for years. According to Lewis, after he purchased the farm, Jackson was allowed to harvest firewood for himself and others, and was permitted to hunt the posted farm property. Lewis said he revoked access both to Jackson and to Sweatt after repairing years of extensive damage to the farm sugarbush. Im not running for mayor in Essex. Weve got a farm to run. Jackson and Sweatt demonstrated no respect for the land, our farm, or us, said Lewis. Jackson said he stopped sugaring on the property three years ago, without being kicked off. Jackson declined to comment on the personal charges, but said he did no damage to the sugarbush. Any damage was done by his contractors. All we did was clean up wood which they had piled, said Jackson. Jackson denies personal motivation, cites safety concerns
Jackson said there was no personal motivation behind the lawsuit. While I have no respect for him personally, I do for his family and farm. Mr. Lewis is welcome to fabricate all the venomous lies he wants about me personally, and I will not dignify them with a response, said Jackson. He said town officials believed the drainage system at the Lewis farm would eventually fill in, and create flooding. The town board voted unanimously to file our lawsuit and protect our citizens, their rights, and our road. It seems the judge thinks that since no disaster has happened in the last year and one half, that none ever will. We fear he is wrong, but pray he is right, said Jackson. Suit costs $14,000 for Essex taxpayers
Jackson said the town has spent about $14,000 for the lawsuit. He was unsure if the town would continue its legal actions.

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