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Farmers rally in Bipole III protest

Say Hydro won't reveal easement payments

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Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister speaks with farmer protesters at the legislature Monday.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister speaks with farmer protesters at the legislature Monday. Photo Store

Dozens of farmers and their families descended on the Manitoba Hydro Building and the legislature Monday to draw attention to what they say is the unfair treatment they've received over the construction of the Bipole III transmission line.

The farmers, represented by the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA), say Hydro has refused to answer what they'll be paid in compensation for the 1,400-kilometre line and its towers crossing their land.

The farmers, most of them from south of Winnipeg, said they want written reassurance from the Crown corporation that they will have some say in the work surveyors and construction crews do on their land.

They say they are upset over Hydro surveyors going onto their land last year without a farmer-approved bio-security protocol, risking diseases such as clubroot spreading to canola fields.

'It's not that we're trying to stop the bipole, we just want something for the future and something that's going to add value to our land. Not depreciate it'

—a farmer protesting the compensation offered to those allowing Bipole III to run through their land

"It's not just about the money -- it's about everything," a Red River Valley grain producer said outside Hydro's Portage Avenue head office.

"The structures are going to be there forever," a second man said. "It's not that we're trying to stop the bipole, we just want something for the future and something that's going to add value to our land, not depreciate it."

The day-long demonstration -- the issue also took up part of question period in the legislature -- came as Hydro puts the final touches on a compensation package for more than 400 landowners affected by the new power line.

"We have raised the amount of compensation we're providing from 100 per cent to 150 per cent of the independent assessment of the land value," Hydro spokesman Bill Henderson said. "That is for the right of easement. The landowner still has the ability to use that land, but they're getting a one-time payment equivalent to 150 per cent (of fair market value)."

Brunkild canola farmer Jurgen Kohler said the demonstrators -- CAEPLA represents about 100 landowners -- want a "business agreement" with Hydro that addresses all their concerns, including who's liable for the line and its towers on private land.

"What they're is doing is a divide-and-conquer exercise," Kohler said. "They're pitting landowners against landowners by trying to negotiate with some that aren't as passionate as us on property rights."

CAEPLA is a not-for-profit farm-property advocate specializing in negotiations with the energy sector. Farmers who belong to CAEPLA pay a $150 annual subscription fee. If and when Hydro settles with its members, CAEPLA will collect six per cent.

Late in the afternoon, Hydro Minister Stan Struthers met with Kohler and David Core, CAEPLA director of federally regulated projects.

"We have to remember that we don't have a bunch of cookie-cutter farm sites out there," Struthers said. "We don't want a one-size-fits-all approach to this."

Opposition Tory Leader Brian Pallister took up the issue in question period, saying the NDP government seems uninterested in collective bargaining when it comes to rural residents.

Work on Bipole III, to bring more electricity south from northern Manitoba, started several weeks ago.

A number of contracts for land-clearing have been awarded and work has begun at the site of the Keewatinoow converter station, about 80 kilometres northeast of Gillam.

Clearing for the Keewatinoow construction power line, collector lines, and along the Bipole III route between Thompson and the The Pas has also started.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2014 A5

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