Bipole route fails to consider effects on farming

The needs of agriculture were ranked equally with garter snakes, while birds, mammals and caribou were given extra consideration

The following is an excerpt of a presentation by Niverville farmer Karen Friesen to the Clean Environment Commission hearings on Bipole III last month. The hearings are continuing in Winnipeg through November.

Of the 20 million acres farmed in Manitoba, only 25 per cent is classified as Land Inventory Classes 1, 2, and 3 — our best soils. Every Class 1 acre is located in the southern portion of the province.

As Manitoba Hydro went through the process of choosing a route for Bipole III through these most productive soils, it set up a matrix to help decide the best option.

What completely astounds me is that, when Hydro was considering the 23 criteria, agriculture was ranked equally among the other 22 criteria, which included amphibians and reptiles. Six of the criteria including birds, mammals, caribou, culture and heritage were even given the opportunity for extra weight.

Agriculture, on the other hand, remained ranked equally with garter snakes. Unbelievable, considering what it contributes to our province and its economy.

I would like now to touch on a few of our concerns. One of our serious concerns will be the severe production constraints we will be forced to work with once the line is built. In any single season, farmers may be in a field a minimum of 10 times pulling different implements with high-horsepower tractors. Working around or near the towers and line will pose problems to many landowners and these problems have not been properly analyzed by Manitoba Hydro.

Farm equipment

One of the production constraints we will deal with is the time and financial cost of manoeuvring large equipment around towers in the field. Overlap and underlap of pesticides and fertilizers around towers will be a continuing problem.

We row crop our entire farm and so special season-long problems of inconvenience and cost with row cropping around towers will be a serious issue. The spreading of noxious weeds from areas beneath and around towers and rights-of-way will give us higher costs on an annual basis from both increased use of pesticides, fertilizer and fuel and increased labour costs.

Manure management

A large portion of the route for Bipole III in the southern section of the province will traverse the most heavily populated Hog, Poultry and Dairy Belt in Manitoba. The land we farm, as well as almost every other acre in the RM of Hanover is dedicated to manure management plans demanded by Manitoba Conservation. These rules are strictly enforced for good reason so that we are all operating in environmentally responsible ways. The majority of these operations work with liquid manure injection and spreading equipment utilizing drag hoses to apply the manure.

This type of specialized equipment is incompatible with large obstructions such as huge towers in the field. Manitoba Hydro has already admitted that it has not taken any of these serious issues/consequences into account when they were planning the route.

Aerial spraying

The area that we farm uses aerial application every single year. It is an area of the province that grows many special crops such as corn, beans, and canola. For many of the crops, late-season fungicides are applied by aircraft because the crop is too advanced to apply by ground-based equipment.

If we get wet years, as we often do and as was the case in the spring of 2011, air application of herbicides and pesticides may be our only option. If the application of pesticides is not an option, the losses will be catastrophic. Manitoba Hydro has completely underestimated the impact of this serious constraint. On top of these obvious problems, when aerial applicators have more work than they can handle at busy times, it is not surprising that they choose not to service fields with a power line traversing them.

Safety and liability

Of utmost concern to me will be the safety and liability issues that will arise from working around such structures in the field.

Today’s farmers are working with huge tractors, many over 500 hp and pulling very wide implements, such as our 110-foot harrow and 120-foot sprayer.

We are working with GPS and autosteer technology. We are also often working 24-hour days and farming large acreages.

If a tractor or an implement it is pulling hits or just even hooks a tower, you will see it buckle in seconds. The risk is so much higher for a tower placed in a field where farm implements will be forced to work constantly around it than along a road allowance.

It is hard for me to believe that this topic has been avoided in discussions. To make matters even more critical, we will have to worry not only about the safety of our operators which includes our young family members as they learn to farm, but about the liability and insurance issues if the tower is damaged and brought down. When you traverse over 350 km of prime, cultivated farmland, it is guaranteed to happen; it’s only a matter of when and to whom. It is impossible to compensate for the increased risks and liability.

Long-term health effects

It is one thing for those who are forcing the line upon us, to state there are no “known” long-term health concerns or no “direct” links today, but it is a completely different thing to be able to guarantee that these concerns will never exist.

History has proven that this can change over time once more studies have been completed. No one is willing to put into writing that there will never be anything of concern.

It is also one thing to choose to make a decision for yourself and family with any of life’s risks. It is completely another for something to be forced upon you over which you have absolutely no control. There is no denying there has been and will continue to be a large stress factor to all of us that will be the most directly affected because we are forced to live and work alongside Bipole III. There will always be safety concerns which can and will impact long-term health and well-being. No amount of compensation will ever change that.

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