“It is a long
way around for these guys.”
– IAN WISHART, KAP
Farmers near Lac du Bonnet racing to harvest a late crop may have to go several hours out of their way after their local bridge is closed for repair this week.
The Manitoba Highways Department is scheduled to close a bridge across the Winnipeg River for repairs Oct. 4. Some farmers say that’ll force them into a two-hour detour to reach their fields.
Harvest in the region is already three to four weeks late. The bridge shutdown will occur just when soybean crops will be ready for combining, said local farmer Cindy Kellendonk. “I don’t think the timing of harvest was given enough consideration, nor the impact to producers,” she said.
Kellendonk estimated up to 4,000 acres could be affected.
She said farmers want Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation (MIT) to delay the bridge work until the crop is off. She said combines and other farm equipment cross the bridge several times a day during harvest and sending them the long way around isn’t practical.
At the very least, construction workers should flag equipment and other vehicles across the bridge on one lane instead of cutting traffic off completely, said Kellendonk.
She said highway officials say the work could take between one and three weeks.
But MIT says it can’t delay the project because the bridge will be needed for a detour when work on a different bridge near Pinawa starts next spring.
Flagging traffic across isn’t an option, either, said Ron Weatherburn, MIT’s executive director of construction and maintenance. Because the bridge across provincial road 313 just northeast of Lac du Bonnet is narrow, workers cannot keep one lane open for traffic during construction, he said.
Weatherburn said MIT deferred the work to October because the route is heavily travelled during the summer by cottage country commuters.
That has Kellendonk feeling the province considers tourism more important than agriculture.
Ian Wishart, Keystone Agr icul tural Producers, wouldn’t go that far. But he said highway officials should be sensitive to farmers’ needs, especially at critical times of the year.
“I do think Highways has to remember that agriculture still has timelines that have to be honoured: harvest season, seeding season. We can be somewhat flexible but there are some things that we can only bend so far,” said Wishart, whose group has spoken with MIT about the matter.
MIT was scheduled to meet with local farmers and municipal officials in Lac du Bonnet Sept. 30 to seek a solution.
One option could be to leave the bridge open during late afternoon and evening for equipment to cross then, said Weatherburn.
He said MIT tries not to close bridges completely during construction. When that does happen, alternate routes are usually available close by and detours are much shorter. But local geography makes this case more difficult, he said.
Wishart said compromises are usually available when bridge and road-work inconveniences farmers. Bridge repair near St. Francois Xavier this summer affected local vegetable farmers who had to move product daily. In that case, workers were able to keep one lane open to flag trucks through.
But this case involves combines which occupy both lanes while crossing. Neither lane will be open. And a round-trip detour for slow-moving farm equipment takes up to four hours.
“It is a long way around for these guys,” Wishart said. [email protected]