Manitoba power line talks stall between landowners, gov’t

Landowners in southern Manitoba and the province’s power utility have reached an impasse, each waiting for the other party to blink.

Manitoba Hydro is planning to build Bipole III, a new transmission line from northern hydroelectric dams to Winnipeg, but the utility still has to secure agreements with dozens of farmers between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg.

The utility wants to sign right of way agreements with individual farmers, with one-time payments for easements and the towers built on privately owned land.

But about 120 farmers are refusing to deal with Manitoba Hydro one-to-one. They want to negotiate as a group and have engaged the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations to negotiate on their behalf.

“We’re pro-development…. We’re here to make a business agreement that protects landowners’ properties from expropriation,” said Dave Core, CAEPLA chief executive officer, at an open house in Winnipeg Dec. 2, organized by affected landowners.

So far, Manitoba Hydro has refused to deal with CAEPLA or the landowner association as a group.

Hydro says its compensation package to individual farmers is fair and generous.

It is offering:

• A single payment of 150 percent of market value of the land required for the easement.

• Construction damage compensation.

• Structure impact compensation for each tower placed on the landowner’s property.

The farmers in the coalition want Hydro to provide annual payments, similar to the compensation offered by pipeline companies.

Core said he’s negotiated several agreements for transmission lines in Alberta, where utilities agreed to pay annual compensation.

“They get rent, or annual structure payments, for their towers. And its upgraded every five years based on the land values and inflation.”

Core emphasized the issue is more complex than annual payments.

“If anybody tries to tell you this is all about compensation, they’re wrong.”

Core said farmers are very concerned about a number of potential impacts, including biosecurity for weeds and soil disease, how the towers and lines will affect irrigation and crop production losses.

Jurgen Kohler, a grains and oilseeds producer from Brunkild, Man., has joined the coalition and agreed to have CAEPLA negotiate on his behalf.

He got involved after he learned that land surveyors went onto his land, without permission, to study the route for the transmission line.

He said the affected landowners aren’t looking to stop the power transmission project. Landowners want an agreement that protects farmland and provides fair compensation for the long-term hassle of a hydro line.

“The clubroot issue in canola, that’s a huge issue,” he said. “They (Hydro) have reached some agreements in the north of Highway 16…. There’s a lot of pastureland up there. Their issues are totally different than ours in the south, where we have the most productive land in Western Canada.”

Manitoba Hydro plans to have Bipole III in service by 2018. To meet that objective, it needs easement agreements with private landowners as soon as possible.

The route for the line begins in northern Manitoba, cuts southwest to the Saskatchewan border, runs west of Lake Manitoba and then runs across southern Manitoba before terminating southeast of Winnipeg.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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