Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Farmers still waiting for flood cash

Dam act barrier to compensation

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It was touted as a way of flowing cash to oft-flooded farmers operating downstream of the Shellmouth reservoir in exchange for their land being flooded for the greater good.

But the Shellmouth Dam and Other Water Control Works Management and Compensation Act -- proclaimed in February 2011 -- has turned out to be more of a barrier than a conduit to government compensation.

Farmers who could not plant crops due to the massive flood of 2011 have yet to receive a dime from the provincial government under the legislation. Neither did they receive any relief after flooding, due at least in part to the operation of the dam, destroyed a promising crop in late June and early July of last year.

The province would not admit the dam was a factor in the flooding for either year until this past November.

An official with Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) said this week it could take until late fall before the six dozen or more affected farmers receive their cheques.

"Before the snow flies next year this should be wrapped up," said Lee Spencer, EMO's acting executive director.

Keith Pearn, a grain and cattle farmer with land south of Lenore near Highway 259, has seen his land flooded the past three years. "We were told when this act was passed, 'You guys don't need to worry anymore in the Assiniboine Valley below that dam about getting flooded. This is going to take care of you,' " Pearn recalled. "It's done anything but."

Instead, since they were placed into a special category, they didn't qualify for ad hoc flood payments made to other Manitoba farmers for the 2011 flood. "We're worse off now than we ever were," Pearn said.

The Shellmouth Dam was completed in 1972. It provides flood protection to people living along the Assiniboine River as far east as Winnipeg. Its reservoir is also used to ensure communities continue to have water in times of drought.

The farmers understand the dam's greater public good, but they also want compensation when too much water is held back for too long and they suffer the consequences.

The province initially blamed compensation delays on the fact staff and other resources, such as outside consultants, were busy fighting the 2011 flood. It also took time to develop flood models that would differentiate between artificial flooding caused by the dam and the flooding that would have occurred without it, officials said.

Government staff are now double-checking that work. Once the program is ready in the next few weeks, farmers will then have to apply for compensation. Each will also be visited by program field workers, who have yet to be selected for the job. It's anticipated cheques for both 2011 and 2012 will be mailed out at the same time.

Spencer said while it is taking some time to design a compensation program specifically to the new legislation, the province should be able to respond more quickly in future floods.

"We're making sure that we're doing this in a way that we can take forward and use in the future," he said. "We don't want to go into this half-prepared."

Progressive Conservative MLA Larry Maguire, who represents many of the affected farmers, said compensation cheques should have been mailed out long ago.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2013 A6

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Updated on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 9:14 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds fact box

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