By Harry Brook
Throughout Alberta, counties and municipalities are responsible for providing roads. In rural areas, there are road allowances every one mile east to west and every two miles north to south. Many of these rights-of-way have not been developed or are only a dirt trail. Just because they are undeveloped does not give adjoining landowners the right to farm them.
Road allowances were surveyed out when the prairies were first settled. Some of these roads were never developed as no one was living on them. In other cases, once there were no homes along the road, they were not maintained at the same level and degenerated into dirt trails.
Don’t let appearances deceive you. Road allowances, whether they are developed or not, are still the responsibility of the county and they are available for public access. If someone is on a road allowance, they are not trespassing and have a legal right to be on the road, developed or not.
In most cases, the road allowance is 66 feet wide. In the original term of the surveyors, that is 4 rods wide. A rod is 16.5 feet and a rod, half a mile long, is one acre. Sometimes, major gravel roads may be up to 100 feet wide. As road allowances are under the control of the county, there should be no brush removal of road allowances and certainly no removal of the roadbed. You cannot cultivate an active road or trail and convert it to cropland.
Sometimes, adjoining neighbours may have a dispute over the use of an undeveloped road allowance. The thinking is that they have as much right to use the road allowance as their adjoining neighbour. It still is county property.
In the case of a dispute over the use of undeveloped road allowances, the county will approach the two parties involved in the dispute. They will be required to sign an agreement recognizing the county jurisdiction over these areas. Failure to do so would result in neither adjoining landowner being allowed to farm or graze this road and the allowance being seeded to grass.
There is no cost to signing these agreements. It is a reminder that no one person has any right to use a road allowance over anyone else, but everyone can use it for access. If a landowner farms land on both sides of an undeveloped road allowance, there is no problem with them farming this allowance. However, it is NOT okay to remove bush or break up a dirt trail. Whatever native vegetation is growing on the road allowance must remain. Adjoining farmers cannot remove brush or break up existing grass in the allowance.
Another issue is farming that encroaches into the allowance. Some farmers will cultivate and seed right up to the edge of the road or trail. This can affect the integrity of the roadbed and can also lead to invasive weeds becoming established in the road allowance. According to Flagstaff County bylaw, farmers must not farm any closer to a road than one meter from the toe of the slope of the road. The grass along the verge of a road is there for the purpose of preventing invasive weeds from becoming established. Spraying out chunks of the road allowance just encourages weeds to establish and spread, creating larger problems.
There are a lot of undeveloped and partially developed road allowances in Flagstaff County that are being used for agricultural purposes. Be mindful the ultimate purpose of these parcels of land is for public access. Be respectful of public rights and responsibilities. Let’s work together.