Scranton responds to beekeeper’s lawsuit
By ANDREW MCGINN
The city of Scranton can’t say whether it seized saleable honey from a local beekeeper in December because the city doesn’t know the “scope and nature” of the business conducted at 701 Stanton St., according to its response to a lawsuit filed by Cail Calder, owner of the business, Bee Mindful.
Calder recently filed suit in district court against the city, plus Scranton Mayor Cole Gustoff and Region 12 Council of Governments, saying they seized and destroyed 1,900 pounds of unprocessed honey, along with other items, in a quest to abate what it considered a nuisance on Calder’s business property at 701 Stanton St.
Much of the “brush, junk and trash” taken by the city, the suit alleges, was used in connection with Bee Mindful’s business operation, such as honey supers and saleable honey products.
Calder estimated damages at $200,000.
But in its response, the city denied “for lack of information at this time” that Calder is a member of Bee Mindful or that he’s “engaged in the business of harvesting honey.”
The city’s response was filed May 1 in district court by Des Moines attorney Barbara A. Hering, the attorney hired to represent the city and mayor by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP), which provides insurance to public entities in Iowa.
Hering said they don’t comment further on pending litigation.
Calder said this week that he’s been in business on Stanton Street — in a former Allis-Chalmers dealership behind the library — for six years. The property is zoned commercial.
A regular at the Greene County Farmers’ Market, he said the city should know the “scope and nature” of his business.
“When beekeeping was legal here, I had to go in front of the council yearly,” Calder said. “Too bad they didn’t care enough to pay attention.”
Beekeeping in Scranton has alternated between legal and illegal, leading Calder to remark, “The smaller the town, the tougher the politics,” as part of a profile last June in The Jefferson Herald on his business and the plight of honey bees.
The city of Jefferson decided to follow Scranton’s original lead by making beekeeping legal. It remains legal in Jefferson.
Gustoff in January told the Herald that Calder’s abatement “had nothing to do with bees, or honey.” Since then, Gustoff hasn’t responded to messages for comment.
Calder admittedly uses that property for several enterprises, including the repair and sale of three-wheeled utility vehicles. He said he also raises plants and seed for pollinator patches.
Honey and value-added beeswax products are among his most profitable enterprises, he said. At different times, he said, he has bees in six states at once.
As pollinators, managed honey bees add at least $15 billion in value annually to American agriculture, according to the USDA.
Calder maintains he requested a hearing with the city as ordered by three separate abatement notices issued Sept. 7, Nov. 5 and Dec. 18 by Region 12, which is contracted to perform code enforcement in Scranton.
But the city alleges that none of those requests were in writing, as outlined in each of the notices.
The city acknowledges that Calder made attempts to contact Gustoff upon receipt of abatement notices in September and November, and even visited City Hall, but the city stated it can’t be sure “the nature of Mr. Calder’s subjective intentions.”
Calder has said Gustoff told him “don’t worry about it.” The city acknowledges that was indeed said, but not in reference to the property at 701 Stanton St.
Calder also spoke “informally” to a part-time office employee at City Hall in December, the city acknowledges. A note taken Dec. 16 purports to show that Calder requested to address the Scranton city council at its next regular meeting, which would have been Jan. 14.
But, the city says, Calder wasn’t informed a hearing would occur on Jan. 14, in part because he never made a written request.
“He missed the hearing because he didn’t care,” Gustoff told the Herald in early January.
By Jan. 14, the city had already conducted what it calls a “duly authorized abatement of the nuisance” at 701 Stanton. Hundreds of boxes used to collect honey were among items taken to the landfill, according to Calder.
A fourth-generation Greene Countian, Calder made good on a threat to file suit after the city of Scranton reportedly ignored his attorney’s written request in March for compensation.
The unprocessed honey taken by the city would have gotten Calder through to June or July, he said.
Instead, with honey down to what he called “little dribs and drabs,” he’s having to let wholesalers go.
The suit alleges that the city, Gustoff and Region 12 waited until Calder was out of state for the holidays “before unlawfully entering his property and destroying Calder’s business” in violation of both the Fifth and 14th amendments of the Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment addresses the taking of private property without just compensation, while the 14th pertains to an individual’s right to due process.
Ironically, the suit was filed the same day, April 13, that Region 12 issued yet another notice to Calder to abate a nuisance on his business property.
The new “nuisance” to abate by June 1 includes “junk wood pallets.”
The city, Calder said, took his old pallets.
“What’s the point of having commercial property if I can’t put my commercial goods outside the building?” Calder asked. “Whether they like it or not, I’m sitting on commercial property.”