Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Floodway makes land 'retention pond'

Farmer suing province over ruined property

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GRAND POINTE -- The Red River Floodway keeps thousands of Winnipeg homes dry, but farmer David Poole says it turns his fields into mush.

And he fears if predictions hold true this spring, almost 300 acres of land he owns will be artificially flooded again when the floodway's gates are activated.

The 75-year-old Poole is suing the province for ruining his once-productive farm, and he wants them to buy him out so he can purchase drier land somewhere else to raise his crops and feed his cattle.

"My land is destined to be a retention pond," Poole said Wednesday during a break in spring calving. "That's what the province foisted on me. My land is worthless."

Poole said following the 1997 flood, the province built a large dike through his land to protect him and the rest of Grand Pointe from future flooding. Grand Pointe flooded out in '97 because of the operation of the floodway.

"Every time they raise the gates to divert the water down the floodway, the water has to back up due to the fact that the inlet to the floodway is considerably higher than the floodway itself," the Hallama Drive farmer said. "The water is almost backed up to Ste. Agathe."

He and others said the culprit is an earthen berm at the mouth of the floodway channel. The floodway's gates, when raised, hold water back on the Red River until it reaches a level high enough so it can flow over the berm and into the channel.

"If they just opened that notch (berm) more water would flow into the floodway earlier," St. Mary's Road resident Warren Schettler said.

Schettler and his neighbours who live south of the floodway are readying themselves -- and their boats -- for flood water to swamp St. Mary's Road and cut off vehicles' access.

The province has said the berm is needed to keep ice out of the floodway channel. Should ice get in, it could jam at any one of several bridges and compromise the floodway's operation and threaten homes in Winnipeg.

The province has not filed a statement of defence to Poole's lawsuit.

Poole says in his statement of claim that because of the floodway, and the dike running across his land, about 278 acres of his farm are useless and will never be used for anything other than holding water. The loss and reduced value of the property are estimated at $2,639 to $3,781 per acre or $737,642 to $1,051,118 in total.

"It's the middle of June and the land hasn't dried. It's not worth seeding. The window has closed," he said, describing what happens during a flood year.

It also means he can't grow hay for his cattle, and, instead, has to buy feed.

"I've got about 40 acres inside the dike where my yard and house are, but on the backside on the other side of the dike, that's a bloody failure. I'm always drowned out almost every spring whenever they raise the gates."

Poole's house was flooded out in 1997 despite a volunteer army using 30,000 sandbags to protect it. He doesn't expect anything like 1997 again when his grain bins floated away, but a 2009-level flood will keep him off his fields.

Schettler also said he doesn't expect flooding as bad as some forecasts and hopes he'll be able to keep his boat in the shed.

He said a lot of the dire warnings about a pending flood are coming from a government seeking re-election in the fall.

"Everyone wants to be popular at election time and this is as good a way to reach out to a lot of people," he said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2011 A6

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