Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Several years of payouts probable

Farmer compensation will be unprecedented

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DELIBERATELY bulldozing a hole in a Manitoba dike is unprecedented.

Compensation for farmers in the path of unexpected floodwaters will be, too.

Flood Fight

"It will be in the hundreds of millions, no question," said Keystone Agricultural Producers president Doug Chorney. "This is not an act of God or weather conditions. This is a deliberate action taken by the government."

And, it won't just claim homes, furniture and memories. It will also claim livelihoods in the form of lost equipment, ruined farmland and drowned crops, possibly for several years. That's beyond the reach of the province's roster of conventional crop insurance and disaster financial assistance program, which caps payouts at $200,000 and doesn't cover lost income.

At least 150 homes could be affected and dozens of farms in one of the most fertile areas of the province. Chorney noted that just four vegetable farms, including Doug Connery's Riverdale farm, have annual receipts worth $10 million. Because some crops, such as asparagus and strawberries, take years to cultivate, compensation for lost income will be needed for several years.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged financial help for flood victims Wednesday, and the province said it would compensate people flooded by the controlled release for lost income.

Provincial Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said a special program will be modelled after the federal-provincial package created after the 1997 flood and would include compensation for farmers unable to work their land.

"I don't think anyone would begrudge the people in that area a special program," he said.

Ashton said the province is still working with Ottawa on the details and hopes to have more information in the next day or two.

Following the 1997 flood, the provincial and federal governments paid more than $245 million in disaster financial aid, but little of it was the result of deliberate flooding.

But there are some smaller compensation programs in place to cover "artificial" flooding.

A program was created during the recent expansion of the Red River Floodway, and earlier this year the province proclaimed special compensation legislation for farmers affected by the Shellmouth Dam and reservoir in western Manitoba. That deal included reimbursement for lost income.

Some farmers in the path of the dike cut have hinted they might launch a class-action lawsuit if the province's compensation package falls short. Most compensation deals give landowners a choice. They can apply for compensation or sue -- but they can't do both.

Ashton wouldn't ballpark the possible cost of a compensation package and there are too many factors to wager a guess. It's impossible to predict how widespread the flooding will be, how long the water will stay, whether grain, vegetable and livestock operations will have time to bounce back this season, the damage done to equipment and farm buildings, not to mention the damage to 150 homes and their contents.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2011 A4

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