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County Fence Ordinance Discussed at Public Hearing
By Averett Jones, Editor
Currently, Virginia is a free-range state where it is the responsibility of landowners to fence out other’s livestock rather than requiring the owners of livestock to fence them in. However, state law specifically gives counties the authority to enact more stringent fence laws which other Virginia counties, including Prince Edward, have done.
The proposed fence law appears to be a response to the publicity of the problem Eureka School has had with roaming livestock damaging the school and playground. Other citizens experiencing problems then contacted the sheriff’s office and board members.
This issue was first addressed in Virginia in 1631.
• 1631 – “Every man shall enclose his ground with a sufficient fence.”
• Then in 1643 “…that every man shall make a sufficient fence about his cleared ground.”
• In 1646, the fence law was honed to define a lawful fence as being 4 ½ feet high and “substantiall close downe to the bottom.”
•1862 – “Whereas a considerable portion of the territory of the commonwealth having been ravaged by the public enemy, and a great loss of labor, fencing and timber thereby sustained, it is rendered difficult if not impossible for the people of many counties and parts of counties, to keep up enclosures around their farms, according to existing laws…therefore county courts shall have the power to dispense with the existing law in regard to enclosures, so far as their respective counties may be concerned, and in their discretion they may deem it expedient to exempt from the operation of such law.”
The current proposal is a result of complaints of livestock damaging private and public property with little recourse to the owner of the damaged property except to fence the property to keep livestock out.
The Charlotte County proposal states:
The boundary line of each lot or tract of land in the county is declared and established to be a lawful fence as to any livestock identified in paragraph (c) hereof. (b) It shall be unlawful for the owner or manager of any livestock identified in paragraph (c) hereof to permit such animal to run at large beyond the limits of his own lands within the county. (c) As used herein, the word “livestock” shall refer to cattle, horses, mules, goats, sheep, swine, donkeys, alpaca, llamas, or any other four-legged, hooved animal. (d) A violation of this ordinance shall constitute a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than TWO HUNDRED FIFTY & NO/100 ($250.00) DOLLARS. (e) In addition to being guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor upon conviction hereunder, the owner or manager of any such livestock shall be liable for the actual damages sustained. When punitive damages are awarded, the same shall not exceed TWENTY & NO/100 ($20.00) DOLLARS in any case. For every successive trespass the owner or manager of such livestock shall be liable for double damages, both actual and punitive.
The Charlotte County Board room was filled to capacity with concerned citizens. The first speaker was Ed Miller of Tall Pines Lane in Charlotte Court House. Miller started by saying, “I don’t have a beef with you cattlemen.” He then spoke in support of the proposed law showing pictures of goats on the highway and in his yard. “This has been going on for 10 years, something needs to be done about it.”
Bailey Wright of Keysville spoke on behalf of the cattleman’s association stating the association is “deeply opposed” to the ordinance and that agribusiness is the largest business in the county.
Clark Poindexter of Old Well thanked the board for passing the resolution supporting agriculture. He stated the proposal would “cost us money and have an impact on our viability.” “If you can’t help us, please don’t hurt us,” he added.
Linda Adams of Wylliesburg questioned why dogs were not included in the proposal. She referred to the recent dog attack in Mecklenburg County. Her solution is to fence the schools.
Lauren Willis of Charlotte Court House opposed the ordinance. She informed the board that farmers are less than two percent of the population and they are feeding the remaining 98 percent. She opposed government interference in farming saying, “There are only a small percentage of farmers abusing the law.”
Randolph Walker, representing Charlotte County Farm Bureau, stated Farm Bureau had adopted a resolution opposing the ordinance. He acknowledged the problem, stating there are “a few producers who refuse to maintain fences and allow livestock to roam freely.” He then added, “We couldn’t come up with a solution we thought would work.”
Ken Townsend of Drakes Branch was also opposed to the ordinance, but added, “We need to address those individuals who are not good neighbors and come up with some type of solution.”
Robert Tate from Red Oak suggested those with problems should “handle them civilly rather than criminally.”
George Toombs from Saxe said the county should remain farm friendly and that dogs should be included in any proposed ordinance.
Teresa Preston related an incident where someone hit a cow in the road and then hit her car head on. “I can’t afford to fence 50 acres because my neighbor doesn’t feed his cows. This is a safety issue. I would like for the cows to be out of the road.”
Nora Dobinspeck of Phenix said, “I have been chasing my neighbor’s cows longer than Moses was in the wilderness…From now on when I pick up the cow patties from my yard I’m going to take them back to him.”
Following the meeting one cattleman suggested Ed Miller could solve his problem with his neighbor’s goats by posting a sign that he had planted azaleas and other plants that are toxic to goats. Miller responded, “If you can’t be responsible for your own animals, you shouldn’t have them. Something has to be done to protect us.”
At the board meeting the following day the issue was tabled until a later date.