Facing likely defeat in their bid to reroute the Bipole III transmission line, affected landowners are now organizing to fight for a fairer deal from Manitoba Hydro.
Members of the Bipole III Coalition are contacting those who will see the huge towers run through their fields about forming a landowners’ association, and will meet with lawyers in coming weeks to assess their legal options, said coalition president Karen Friesen.
“We wanted to let landowners know that we’re kind of predicting Bipole III’s licence will be granted,” she said. “It might be with some recommended changes, perhaps even some slight route adjustments, but regardless there will be some landowners somewhere who will be affected.”
The southern portion of the controversial multibillion-dollar transmission line is slated to run south of Langruth, jog around MacGregor, and eventually head east, running past St. Claude, Brunkild and Niverville before heading north to the Riel Converter Station on the east side of Winnipeg. There will be three or four towers every mile — each rising about 148 feet above the ground and sitting on a base 23 feet square. Navigating large, modern equipment around the towers will be a major challenge for field operators. They will also pose risks for aerial crop spraying, opponents say.
The coalition has held one meeting in Brunkild, as well as a teleconference to discuss options, said Friesen, who operates a mixed farm with her family near Niverville.
“Really there is not a lot we can do except wait and see right now,” said Friesen. “This meeting is just… to discuss strategy moving forward, because the licence will be granted, or will likely be granted at some point this summer. So we’re in the very early stages of making some decisions on how to proceed as a stand-alone landowners’ group.”
A class-action lawsuit is one option, she said.
“There are definitely a growing number of concerned landowners who are unwilling to sign easement agreements,” she said.
But that would just lead to expropriation, she said.
“This is something landowners will have to deal with for generations to come, so expropriation may not be in our best interest… we want to do what’s right in the long run,” Friesen said.
The Clean Environment Commission (CEC) finished hearing submissions on the Bipole III route in March. Its report isn’t expected until mid-June at the earliest. But opponents expect a licence will be granted a few months later.
Manitoba Hydro employees have been marking property lines in her area, while an outof-province company is signing contracts with local farmers on behalf of the Crown corporation, said Pam Pugh, whose family has a pedigreed seed operation near Portage la Prairie.
“They decided this a long time ago, they had already planned it,” said Pugh. “They’ve sent this company out of Alberta around and they’re wanting to sign people up to have towers on their land… a lot of farmers are very, very upset about this.”
Her family is facing the prospect of nine or 10 towers on their property, covering a distance of about three miles, she said.
“It’s really ridiculous that they’re out there doing this now,” added Friesen.
A Manitoba Hydro official confirmed crews are working along the proposed route to confirm the location of property markers and make sure delineations between private property, Crown land, and easements are clear.
But that doesn’t mean changes to the route won’t be made, said Glenn Schneider.
“The route isn’t finalized and it won’t be until we hear from the CEC,” said Schneider. “We had to spend money in advance on the project in a number of spheres in terms of environmental reviews, in terms of this kind of work going on, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a foregone conclusion. All it means is we’re trying to approach the project in the most economical way and we’ll leave the decision on the final route to the CEC.”
Without advance preparations, keeping the new bipole line on schedule would be very difficult, he said, noting there are a sizable number of property owners who need to be contacted.
“Is the (CEC) going to select an entirely new route? That’s highly unlikely,” he said. “Is it possible they’ll select some deviation to certain portions of the route? That’s possible, and if they do we’ll adjust to that.”
The Bipole III Coalition wants the line to be built on the east side of the province, but westside proponents argue that route faces other obstacles and would jeopardize the chance of the boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg being designated a UNESCO heritage site.
CEC only has a mandate to review the west-side route.
Not allowing the commission to consider whether an eastside route is better shows the province doesn’t understand how farmland is used, said Pugh.
“It’s going to hurt the agriculture industry and they don’t realize how important the agriculture industry is in this province; without the farmers, people would starve,” she said.