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Farms again threatened with ruin

Province building new Poplar Point dike

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Willy Foth walks along his existing dike. He's still steamed he received no compensation after the 2011 flood.

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Willy Foth walks along his existing dike. He's still steamed he received no compensation after the 2011 flood.

POPLAR POINT -- In 2011, Willy Foth almost saw his farm flash-flood before his eyes.

His multimillion-dollar mixed farm about eight kilometres east of Poplar Point was at the mercy of the swelling Assiniboine River. The dikes around his property were threatened by ice floes and rising water. In fact, provincial engineers warned him to abandon his farm.

No sale.

"When you have livestock," Foth said, "you can't just leave."

The dike was breached not once, but twice, but Foth's farm was spared. Water came to within inches of washing out his poultry barn, machinery shed, grain silos and home. The losses would have been in the several millions of dollars, he said.

On Friday morning, engineers representing the province were standing in Foth's home again, this time with another stark warning: "It's coming. The wave is coming."

Provincial officials are forecasting Foth's dikes will be tested again within four or five days. In fact, the province is planning to construct a 1.6-kilometre dike behind the existing dike in case of a breach.

Foth knows why. Because if the levee on his farm breaks, water is going to head east towards communities such as St. François Xavier. And Winnipeg.

Here's the rub: While Foth welcomes provincial assistance, he's still seething about his experience in 2011. His home operation may have been saved, but 1,500 acres of nearby grain land were flooded. Foth was unable to plant any crop in 2011 and paid for the entire cleanup.

Yet his efforts to apply for compensation from the provincial Financial Disaster Assistance fund have proved fruitless. Foth is particularly disappointed with Premier Greg Selinger.

"He (Selinger) came right out to my farm and put his hand on my shoulder, like my dad, and said, 'We'll look after you,' " Foth recalled. "When you've got the top guy telling you that and they (provincial officials) land in your yard on a helicopter with a bunch of guys in suits and then... " Nothing.

"They were more worried about that shed than my life," he added, pointing to the manure barn for his chickens, "because of environmental concerns if it was washed away. They cared more about chicken shit than my life.

"Why hasn't anything been done? And why haven't I got any compensation? You can't expect everything, but nothing?"

Just down the road, Delmer Nott, a 59-year-old hobby farmer, was in the process of moving his small herd of a dozen cattle closer to home. He was also on his farm in 2011 when the Canadian Forces arrived to battle the Assiniboine. "It was pretty unsettling, really," he said.

But Nott echoed concerns that since the 2011 flood, very few dikes have been repaired, much less upgraded.

"I guess that's what happens when you roll the dice," he said. "Last time, they told us it was a 1-in-300-year flood? Well, guess what. I don't think it's been 300 years.

"God, we have to be good for, like, the next century."

Delmer chuckled. But then he went back to work.

The news was a little better upstream for Stephen Burdy, a resident of St. François Xavier who continued to construct his own dike around his property along the Assiniboine.

Burdy said the province's decision in the late afternoon to cut the Hoop and Holler dam near Portage could stop his home south of the Trans-Canada from being flooded.

"We're all on our own here," he said. "The Hoop and Holler will save us."

Still, Foth had ordered more than 30 loads of gravel to build his own dike around his home. "I like to be prepared," he explained. "Sometimes (provincial officials) take their time. They don't want to break any eggs. I like my eggs sunny-side up. No omelettes."

Meanwhile, Foth wasn't doing any scrambling on Friday, either. Asked about his calm demeanour given the floodwater that's coming, he shrugged and said, "What am I going to do, lose it? That's not going to help anything." But losing the farm or another crop? That's another financial matter entirely.

"I managed to pull through in 2011," Foth said. "But if it happens again... come on. There's only so much someone can take."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 A4

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