Man. farmers raise power project as election issue

Southern Manitoba landowners who are battling the government over a controversial power transmission line are determined to make it an issue in the provincial election.

In December 2014, the provincial government and Manitoba Hydro expropriated land from 120 farmers to establish a right of way for a high voltage power line known as Bipole III.

The $4.6 billion power transmission project will run from northern hydroelectric dams to the Sask-atchewan border, then west of Lake Manitoba before cutting across prime agricultural land in southern Manitoba.

The farmers want to negotiate a compensation package as a group, but Manitoba Hydro and the province have refused. The utility said its terms and compensation for individual landowners is already generous.

The group, known as the Bipole III Landowners Committee, started a website called stophydrobullies.ca to generate interest in its cause.

The group said the government and the utility are trampling on property rights and ignoring the right of Manitoba residents to organize and bargain collectively.

“We’re using social media to get our message across,” said Jurgen Kohler, who farms near Brunkild and leads the committee.

“We’re still insisting that we have a right to have CAEPLA (Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations), our legal rep, do the negotiation for us.”

Manitoba’s NDP government has dismissed the group’s demands, but the Progressive Conservative party, which is leading the polls for the April 19 election, has expressed support and been critical of Bipole III.

“We are calling on the NDP to put the best interests of Manitobans ahead of ideology and stop all construction on the Bipole III transmission line until a full financial needs assessment is done,” PC leader Brian Pallister said in 2014.

As of April 4, the PCs had not released its campaign position on Bipole III.

“We will be putting out something … but it hasn’t come out yet,” said Blaine Pedersen, a PC MLA for Midland in south-central Manitoba.

Bipole III has been contentious since 2010 when Manitoba Hydro first announced its route.

Landowners, engineers and former Manitoba Hydro executives have said the route is too long and expensive and will burden the utility with debt.

Many believe the line should run east of Lake Winnipeg, which would be shorter and likely cheaper to build.

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