“Why should I be singled out? I’ve not done anything wrong,” says Higgins, referring to a letter he received from the town’s bylaw enforcement officer on Aug. 18.
The letter said there had been a complaint that Higgins had placed corn on his River Road lawn to attract pigeons or geese. “The above noted act should cease or will result in legal action,” the letter reads.
The letter refers to bylaw 2011- 74 and a notation on the letter indicates it was hand delivered.
Bylaw 2011-74 states that its intention is to “prevent public nuisances when birds spoil and roost on property without the occupiers or owners consent caused when persons feed or attract birds to their private property but fail to limit or control them from neighbouring properties.”
Higgins said the letter, which is addressed to the “Higgins Family,” was slipped in the window of the back door of the house.
He wonders why it was not left in the mail box or at the front door. Better yet, Higgins wonders why there is a letter at all.
“When a bylaw officer receives a complaint, he should come and speak in person and investigate the complaint before sending a letter.”
A visit in person is the usual procedure in cases where the town receives a complaint about a possible bylaw infraction, said Brenda Guy, Gananoque’s man-a ger of community development.
Guy oversees bylaw enforcement in the town and she said she could not give specific information about the Higgins’ situation.
“We would have to have had enough (evidence) that we felt the letter was warranted,” Guy said, adding the town would never act on a verbal complaint alone.
Higgins said when he contacted the town about the matter, he was informed the town had photos to support the complaint. He said his request to see the photos was denied.
Guy would not discuss the existence of any photos, saying she could only stress that the town felt it had enough information to take action.
Pigeons and geese have been of concern to the town and its residents for some time, specifically their fecal matter, Guy said.
“The fecal of those birds is very unhealthy. There have been studies that have shown it can cause health-related issues,” Guy said.
Guy said the bylaw was enacted on Aug. 16 as a result of the town receiving numerous complaints about excessive feeding. The letter to Higgins was dated the next day.
“A bylaw has to be in place in order for us to enforce things,” Guy said.
The bylaw is not meant to target the small bird feeder in any-one’s backyard.
“This is not intended to be about your blue jays,” Guy says. “This is about excessive feeding.”
The intent of the bylaw, Guy says, is to stop anyone who may be feeding or attracting geese and pigeons to the point that adjacent properties cannot enjoy their back yards.
Higgins says he is concerned about the timing of the letter, noting it was received Aug. 18, two days after the bylaw was passed by town council. That is not sufficient time for the public to be made aware of the new rule, Higgins says.
“A new bylaw should be put into the newspapers. There needs to be public education when a new bylaw is passed,” Higgins says, noting he was not aware of the bylaw until he received the letter.
Guy said the bylaw would have been put on the town’s website and suggested some media outlets that attend council meetings may have written about the new bylaw.
In any event, she says that’s what the letter to the Higgins family was — a sharing of information so that the family was aware the town now has a bylaw covering the excessive feeding of birds.
“It was just a letter — there was no order attached,’ Guy says.
Regardless, Higgins insists he has done nothing wrong. He has two small bird feeders on the property that attract mostly blue jays and chickadees. He said he has never placed corn or seed on the lawn.
He says he has thrown a handful of corn into the Gananoque River from time to time to feed the geese, which are ever present on the river. He claims the river is Crown property and therefore not subject to a town bylaw.
He suggests residents along the river who don’t want the geese on their property put netting along the shoreline, as he has done.
“You cannot put the blame on other people if a goose chooses to come out of the water onto your property,” Higgins says. “A bird will go wherever it wants.”