Forest Fest cancelled after hostile meeting
Published: March 22, 2016
By Angelica Ingram
“I am not a criminal, but readily admit I do push the limits,” said Peter Schleifenbaum, owner/operator of the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve at a special meeting of council held on Friday, March 18.
There was no shortage of tension at the meeting, where Schleifenbaum addressed Dysart council about a recent legal decision that involved both parties, which was reported in the March 8 issue of the Haliburton Echo.
Earlier this year the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found in favour of Dysart et al in a case between the municipality and Forest, where the Forest had constructed a number of buildings and additions without the necessary building permits.
The decision resulted in a court order to remove the buildings that did not have a permit.
Schleifenbaum began the meeting by reminding councillors that Haliburton Forest was a very good corporate citizen, and pointed to charitable acts done by the business such as donating the timber for the Haliburton bandshell.
Reading from a prepared statement, the businessman said he would be appealing the decision by Judge Di Tomaso and claimed he was “set-up for this lawsuit.”
Schleifenbaum accused municipal staff members of giving false information to the courts and went over the communication exchange between himself and the municipality regarding the permits.
“I strongly suggest Dysart dealt in very bad faith,” he said.
The owner/operator went on to further describe a rocky relationship between himself, the municipality and Dysart Reeve Murray Fearrey, citing examples that went as far back as 1995.
“What is your point, where are you going with this?” asked Deputy-reeve Andrea Roberts.
Schleifenbaum discussed his recent developments with bio-char and the possibility of moving his operations elsewhere.
“My biggest challenge today is that I have to decide where the final facility will be established,” he said. “I’m looking further afield, I’m presently talking to Algonquin Highlands about two suitable sites there, but am especially intrigued by what North Hastings has to offer.”
Schleifenbaum announced that 2016 would be his final year at the helm of the Forest and that he would need to make a decision about the future of the Forest Festival in the coming days. He said he would need a firm written decision from Dysart by the following day (March 19).
“You know confrontation usually doesn’t settle things in my lifetime,” said Fearrey.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” said Schleifenbaum. “I suspect that this will be my last time sitting in front of you, if there is one final advice or request I want to impart to you, put your personal sentiments against myself aside. Haliburton Forest is not much bigger than Peter Schleifenbaum and you should not hold your community hostage to try and penalize me. For that it is too late and I really don’t care anymore. Show some leadership and make a decision and finally demonstrate some action that will benefit the people of this municipality.”
Fearrey said the legal advice the municipality received was to let the case go through the appeal and nothing is to be done until that is resolved.
“That’s the advice of our lawyer,” said Fearrey.
“That means I will have to announce tomorrow that the Forest Festival is cancelled,” said Schleifenbaum.
Fearrey said that is not the case, as he had looked into tents that would accommodate the annual music festival.
“Tents are big enough to do that ... and we would work with you to do that,” said Fearrey. “There’s no way we can give you an occupancy permit when there’s a court order that no one can be in the building.”
Fearrey said the building that hosts concerts, the Logging Museum, does not meet certain codes and he has had people approach him about it in the past.
“We have to be honest with each other,” said Fearrey.
Schleifenbaum said the building was used within its limits and that the issue is a lack of communication between the Forest and the municipality.
Roberts said council did talk about liability issues at the Logging Museum.
Fearrey reiterated the need to follow the rules and work with the municipality, adding Schleifenbaum is the only one who builds without permits.
“I wish we could get by this. You always blame us, you never take any responsibilities,” said Fearrey.
Roberts reiterated that there was nothing the municipality could do at this point.
“I’m sorry but we have a court order,” she said.
Schleifenbaum said the lawsuit was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
“In this case it’s in the best interest of the taxpayer,” said Fearrey.
Schleifenbaum said a tent wouldn’t work for the festival, but Fearrey suggested they had five months to make it work.
A day after the meeting, Schleifenbaum told the Echo he made the decision that morning not to proceed with this year’s Forest Festival, which typically takes place in August.
“I had to decide this morning that we have to cancel the Forest Festival,” he said. “It just can’t work and finally that tent proposal ... I talked to a couple of people and there’s a whole bunch of reasons why that’s just not going to work.”
Now in its 10th season, the Forest Festival is a multi-day event that takes place at the Logging Museum and Bone Lake Amphitheatre and has attracted big names in the music industry in the past.
Schleifenbaum said he still plans to appeal the court decision.
Fearrey told the Echo he was hoping there would be a more compromising approach at the meeting, rather than confrontation.
“Those charges are over a year old and there was a whole year here to try and fix this problem, not wait for the court decision to be made,” he said.
“This isn’t just about Dysart, I’ve communicated with other municipalities and the building code is the building code. It doesn’t matter where he [Schleifenbaum] goes. They’re going to have to follow the rules. It’s about health and safety and liability.”
Fearrey said the tent proposal was something he investigated on his own, as he knew the Logging Museum would not be available for occupancy.
At this time the court costs and responsibility of payment has not yet been determined, said Fearrey.