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Dairy farmers to be paid

Gas explosion disrupted production

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David Wiens says producers were forced to discard about 300,000 litres of milk at an initial estimated cost of about $240,000.

MIKE APORIUS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

David Wiens says producers were forced to discard about 300,000 litres of milk at an initial estimated cost of about $240,000. Photo Store

It looks as though there's a good chance dairy farmers won't be crying over spilled milk.

And all of the Manitobans who lost natural gas service after a pipeline exploded on Saturday had heat and hot water again on Wednesday.

Davis Sheremata, a spokesman for TransCanada Pipelines, said Wednesday it is already speaking to dairy farmers in the affected area and their association about the losses they suffered when natural gas service was cut off after the pipeline blew up.

"I can't say where we are in the process," Sheremata said.

"We want to get all of our claims and reimbursements out as soon as possible."

The natural gas pipeline explosion near Otterburne and the resulting gas outage forced the closure of two milk-processing plants in the area over the weekend.

With no natural gas available, the cheese plant in New Bothwell and the Parmalat plant in Grunthal had to shut down operations, forcing producers to salvage what they could before the milk went bad.

David Wiens, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, said producers have discarded approximately 300,000 litres of milk at an initial estimated cost of about $240,000.

Sheremata said it was easier to reimburse homeowners, because if they bought something such as a space heater, they could get the cost refunded immediately if they went to the customer information centre in Niverville.

But Sheremata said the dairy farmers and other large businesses in the area needed to put together documentation to detail what losses they sustained.

"We require a lot more to get the true amount," he said.

"Our intent is to pay people and businesses for costs they suffered from the disruption of power."

Wiens said that's good news for dairy farmers in the area, which includes himself.

"We welcome sitting down with (Trans)Canada Pipelines and just going through these things and showing where we suffered the losses," he said.

"We've documented the amount of milk that was discarded and the other costs related to transporting milk to Saskatchewan and Alberta... It will be easy to show exactly what we picked up or couldn't deliver."

The dairy industry in the province was already under stress before the plants in New Bothwell and Grunthal were forced to suspend operations.

A milk-processing plant in Winkler was removed as an option as it is in the process of consolidating its operation in Brandon, leaving the province already short one plant.

With the clock ticking on salvaging the surplus raw milk and the remaining processing plants in the province full, the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba were forced to haul some of the raw milk to plants in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Unfortunately, a limited extra capacity in those out-of-province plants (producers in Saskatchewan and Alberta were operating under normal conditions) meant some raw milk had to be discarded.

"There have been a number of truckloads of milk that have been discarded because there was no processing capacity left," Wiens said.

"We've already moved 200,000 litres of raw milk to Saskatchewan and Alberta, and we expect to move another 370,000 litres in the next few days as our plants try to catch up," he said, noting there will be added transportation costs on top of the $240,000 lost in raw milk product.

The New Bothwell plant resumed operations Tuesday evening, while the Grunthal plant was expected to start up again this morning, Wiens said. The expectation is both plants can catch up on the excess inventory in the next few days.

"I would hope by early next week that we're back to normal," he said.

Meanwhile, Manitoba Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said about 95 per cent of the 3,600 customers who lost service have now been visited by a utility worker, with the rest expected to be completed this afternoon.

As well, Powell said the extra staff brought in from across the province to help restore the gas service will begin going home by the end of the day.

While the utility's staffing at the TransCanada/Manitoba Hydro Customer Information Centre (CIC) in Niverville ended on Wednesday, the centre will continue to be staffed by TransCanada Pipelines workers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. until further notice.

Anyone with questions about expenses can call TransCanada at 1-855-895-8754 or email community_relations@transcanada.com.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 B7

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Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 6:52 AM CST: Replaces photo

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