A farmer in Conemaugh Township has the right to enclose his cattle with an electric fence, even though his neighbors don’t like it.

In a case that farm agencies have been watching with concern, characterizing it as possible suburban encroachment on agriculture, Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki ruled that the farm fence is legal.

“Because the parties’ properties are located in a remote, agricultural community, and because defendants, to avoid potential liability, must ensure that their cattle remain on their property, defendants acted reasonably in erecting (the fence).”

The lawsuit was filed late last year by a Conemaugh Township family living next door to the farmer on Clapboard Run Road.

David and Barbara Blue and their son, Richard, claimed the fence is too close to their above-ground swimming pool, which is not enclosed by a fence.

They said in their lawsuit that the electric fence posed a danger to children using the pool.

But Edward Emigh, who farms part time, said the fence is necessary for controlling his cattle and was erected “in accordance with sound agriculture practices.”

After the verdict in his favor, Emigh characterized the action as “a frivolous lawsuit meant to harass me and my family.”

“If a fence is within township ordinances, it should not have gone to court,” he said.

Farming groups were alarmed when the lawsuit was filed in January and pleased that it was thrown out in September by a county judge.

“I haven’t heard of any cases where a farmer is forced to get rid of a fence like that,” said Robert Davis, president of the Cambria County Farm Bureau.

“You can’t have cattle and not have a fence, and that’s why farm people are concerned.”

Emigh and his neighbors had an earlier dispute, involving a property line, in 2006, and the Blue family characterized the fence as having been built in spite.

But Emigh said his fence was erected to prevent his cattle from escaping. Depending on the time of year, his cattle herd numbers between 25 and 45, he said.

In his ruling, Judge Tulowitzki pointed out that the state Supreme Court has ruled that a motive such as spite is not grounds for a structure to be unlawful.

“Although there is apparent animosity between the parties, as evidenced by the commencement of this suit as well as the previous lawsuit, we are compelled to hold that plaintiffs’ nuisance claim must fall,” he said.

Besides, the fence located on Emigh’s property was installed by an experienced fencing contractor and complies with Conemaugh Township’s ordinances, Tulowitzki said.

The judge wrote that the installer testified that the fence “is regarded as a best practice for livestock enclosure, and that without electrification, cattle could escape by spreading the wires.”

The fence is not dangerous to humans because it provides a shock if touched, but will not “harm, burn or kill a person who may touch it, even if the person is wet,” the judge ruled.

Neither Emigh nor Blue was immediately available for comment.

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