Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Not one single penny in compensation

Farmers wait for payouts from 2011

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Farmer Gene Nerbas in front of fields flooded by the Shellmouth Dam and Shellmouth Reservoir, where someone placed a Lake Selinger sign.

BILL REDEKOP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Farmer Gene Nerbas in front of fields flooded by the Shellmouth Dam and Shellmouth Reservoir, where someone placed a Lake Selinger sign. Photo Store

With 2013 drawing to a close, farmers operating downstream from the Shellmouth Dam and Shellmouth Reservoir have yet to receive promised compensation for flooding in 2011 and 2012.

Farmers in the upper Assiniboine River Valley near the Saskatchewan border have long argued their land has been flooded periodically due to the operation of the dam.

In 2006, after much lobbying, the Manitoba government introduced legislation recognizing their unique situation. The legislation was proclaimed in early 2011.

But the Shellmouth Dam and Other Water Control Works Management and Compensation Act has turned out to be a curse, rather than a saviour, for the western Manitoba farmers.

They say it has precluded them from receiving some agricultural money paid to other producers. Yet, they've not received a dime under the act, which is administered by Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

Stan Cochrane, chairman of the Assiniboine Valley Producers Association, said the people at Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation "don't care" about the six dozen or so farmers who stand to receive compensation.

"They would just as soon we all went broke and left. Then they wouldn't have to bother with us," said Cochrane, who with his two sons farms 5,000 acres, 1,500 of which are in the flood-risk zone.

Some farmers were unable to plant a crop in 2011 due to massive flooding, which was prolonged due to the operation of the dam. The following year, many growers saw promising crops flooded in late June and July when heavy rain caused water to spill over the reservoir and onto their fields.

It took until November 2012 for the provincial government to admit artificial flooding had occurred in the area in both years. But it took another year for a program to be announced -- and then it was done with such little fanfare, many affected farmers are still unaware it exists, said Cochrane.

On Nov. 8, the province, at the bottom of a news release announcing new flood protection along the Waterhen River, said landowners affected by the operations of the Shellmouth could download an application form online. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 6.

Cochrane said the government failed to notify the estimated 75 to 100 growers directly, and it did not advertise the program in the affected communities.

A government spokesman said the province will contact all affected farmers who have yet to apply for assistance early in the new year. Before payments are made, a licensed adjuster will visit each farm, the spokesman said.

The government could not estimate when farmers might be paid. Nor is it clear how much they stand to receive from the Shellmouth Artificial Flooding Compensation Program. In 2011, the land in question would have flooded in any case; it's the fact some land was under water longer because of the operation of the dam that's at issue.

Neither Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton nor senior members of his department were available to comment.

Progressive Conservative critic Stu Briese said there is "absolutely no excuse" for such a lengthy delay in developing a program. "The act says they should be compensated, the minister admits they should be compensated. You (should) get the compensation out there," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 A11

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