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Lake Manitoba farmers decry lack of compensation

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Landowners around Lake Manitoba hold a demonstration in front of  the Manitoba Legislative Building Tuesday morning, rallying the government for the promised compensation for the loss of their land due to the 2011 flood.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Landowners around Lake Manitoba hold a demonstration in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building Tuesday morning, rallying the government for the promised compensation for the loss of their land due to the 2011 flood. Photo Store

Two Lake Manitoba farmers at the centre of last week’s protest at the Portage Diversion hosted a rally today outside the legislative building to draw attention to how they say they’re being treated by the province.

Joe Johnson and Kevin Yuill and about 100 of their supporters decried what they claimed was the province ignoring their own rules in providing them multi-year compensation for damage to their land caused by the 2011 flood.

They say two years later the land they farm near the Portage Diversion and Lake Manitoba is still not back in full production.

"Premier Greg Selinger likes to stand up in front of a TV camera and claim the average farmer gets $300,000 and that’s a crock of B.S.," Johnson said, adding the average payment is more like $63,000 up until last Oct. 31 to pay them for lost income, repairing fences and other restoration of land.

"There’s been next to very little dollars moved to farmers since then," Johnson said. "The only thing that we’re guilty of is criticism of this government and standing up for ourselves."

Yuill pointed to the province’s Water Resources Administration Act that he said supports their claim for multi-year compensation for flooding caused by the Portage Diversion.

He said the act says flooding caused by use of a flood structure should be considered artificial flooding and qualify for ongoing compensation for economic loss.

"There is no question," Yuill said. "They owe us."

The pair and their supporters, which include Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister and Liberal leader Jon Gerrard, also say the government has to build an outlet from Lake Manitoba to drain it most quickly in flood years.

The said a plan has been on the books for decades. The preferred site for an outlet from the lake to Lake St. Martin is Watchorn Bay.

Johnson and Yuill were to appear in court today to oppose an extension of a court injunction that ordered them not to interfere with the operation of the Portage Diversion. An out-of-court settlement saw both sign undertakings that they will not interfere with or obstruct the operation of the Portage Diversion. The undertakings expire July 31.

Infrastructure and Transportation Ministers Steve Ashton, the lead minister on flood measures, said today legal counsel for Johnson and Yuill approached the province Monday offering the signed undertakings.

Ashton also said he has agreed to meet with Lake Manitoba farmers to discuss their concerns. A date has not been finalized.

The Selinger government has said the 12-hour protest at the Portage Diversion last Monday was "unacceptable" and "irresponsible," claiming if it had lasted any longer, communities to the east might have been flooded.

Mere hours after a court injunction was obtained to remove the trespassers, a surge of water arrived at the diversion's reservoir that could have had dire consequences for the RM of Portage la Prairie and the municipalities of Cartier, Headingley and St. François Xavier, officials said after the blockade ended.

Within 30 hours of opening the diversion this time, a heavy flow of water breached a dike half a mile wide and flooded 150 acres of Yuill's winter wheat crop and some land owned by other farmers.

History

Updated on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 12:19 PM CDT: adds new photo

1:23 PM: updates

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