After almost a year since the public meeting, Nelson County has changed its ordinance regarding livestock getting out and causing damage.

On Nov. 14 at the monthly board meeting, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to change the county ordinance from “fence-out” to “fence-in,” which will go into effect on Dec. 15.

The new fence-in ordinance requires livestock owners to install fencing to keep their animals on their property. The previous fence-out ordinance required landowners to fence their land to prevent livestock from entering.

Nelson County held a public meeting in December to allow the public to weigh in on which direction they would like to see the county go. Back then the board said the reason it was considering the change was because many complaints about livestock ruining neighboring property had come to the board within the past year.

The board considered adding one of three different consequences to the ordinance to give it teeth, before finally agreeing to allow action to be determined by the property owner whose land is impacted.

Steve Carter, county administrator, told the board option one would result in the livestock owner being charged with a class one misdemeanor, option two would result in a civil penalty, and option three would not come with a penalty, but would give the landowner the option to take action against the owner of the livestock should they choose.

“Either the sheriff or animal control could charge the party with a class one misdemeanor with option one. With option two, we would issue a civil penalty of whatever the board sets,” Carter said.

Carter suggested, should the board vote to change the ordinance to fence in, that they vote for option three and let the landowner decide what action needs to be taken.

Larry Saunders, chair and South District representative, and Thomas Bruguiere, West District representative, were both torn about this change, but ultimately decided it’s in the best interest to protect the affected landowner from irresponsible livestock owners. Saunders said he asked to have the vote put back on the agenda because people are taking advantage of the fence-out law.

“I’m not really in favor of it, but when someone keeps rubbing it in your face ‘my cows are out, you can’t do anything’ then it’s time for us to come up with some ordinance to protect the one whose property gets destroyed,” Saunders said.

Bruguiere agreed with Saunders, saying it’s unfortunate a small number of people caused this change.

“With a fence-out law there is no recourse to go after the person. Unfortunately, I have to go against what the Farm Bureau would [recommend],” Bruguiere said before saying he was in favor of a fence-in law.

According to the new ordinance the landowner whose property is damaged decides what action should be taken and has the opportunity to work it out between themselves without going to court or pressing charges should they so choose. Carter said this is beneficial because it would keep away the burden of constant calls to the Sheriff’s Department or Animal Control whenever livestock gets out. Ernie Reed, Central District representative, said he would rather have seen option two because even if the affected parties work it out, there would still be a consequence.

“Initially, there is the opportunity of the two parties to figure something out between the two before charges are pressed. I would be in favor of option two because even if there should be some agreement between them, there would be a consequence and I think having a consequence puts some teeth in this that otherwise puts the responsibility on who has already been damaged to assume more costs to recoup what’s happened and not everybody has the ability to do that,” Reed said.

While others disagreed with Reed’s reasoning, the board was in favor of transitioning from fence-out to fence-in overall.

“I personally don’t want to see a criminal charge or fine going at the farmer. I do believe when people have damages on their property, the person who caused that injury needs to be held responsible,” Jesse Rutherford, East District representative, said.

For Nelson resident and cattle farmer Andre Derdeyn, this change is a good thing.

“In the year 2019, the county has changed substantially and I believe it’s a proper rule,” Derdeyn said.

Derdeyn agrees with the option to not impose any penalties and believes with this change, people will be more careful.

“They need to be better neighbors than the old law requires. Cows get out now and then, but not that often. It’s not an unfair burden to the cattle owner that’s for sure,” Derdeyn said.

The board agreed to give the public a month to learn about and get used to the change in the ordinance. The change will go into effect on Dec. 15. Campbell County is currently a fence-in community and Appomattox recently voted to remain fence-out.

“It’s unfortunate that a few people have brought this so we have to change an ordinance,” Bruguiere said.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

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