Farmer says Manitoba Hydro disregarded safety in placing new lines

If farmers choose to farm public road allowances, it’s their job to take safety precautions says Hydro

A Foxwarren-area farmer says Manitoba Hydro’s high-handed treatment has left his farm less safe and caused him to relinquish leased land he says is now too dangerous to work.

“We as citizens need to be aware of Hydro and Hydro lines and avoid contact, but Hydro doesn’t seem to take any interest or responsibility to put in their hydro lines in a place where… it can limit contact,” said George Graham, who farms near Foxwarren in western Manitoba.

“They just put them somewhere and ‘There, don’t hit them,’” he said. “That’s kind of a scary scenario.”

Graham said two power lines have interfered with his farm. The first is a three-phase line built last year to replace an old line onto his neighbour’s property.

He found out about the project when Manitoba Hydro called him to ask if they could trim back trees along the edge of his property. They told him the line would go up along two sides of his property — on one side over the existing line and the other along his field.

“‘When was someone going to tell me this?’” Graham said he asked. “Well, the answer blew me off my feet. They said, ‘Well, we have access to municipal right of ways with our lines. We don’t have to tell you.’”

He asked if they could build it over top of the old line on his neighbour’s property instead of building the new line on the road allowance, which at the time would have placed it inside his canola crop. He was told this would be unsafe due to an existing fence and bush there.

“I think it was more about it was going to cost more to remove a fence… and to remove trees,” Graham said. “If they’d have just said that, I would have wrote a cheque.”

Graham said he was aghast when he saw the stakes marking the new line, which sat in a swath about ten feet inside the field.

“Oh my god, you’re that far out into my field?” Graham said. “They said, ‘Well, it’s not your field, it’s municipal property.’ I said ‘So what? I’ve been farming that for 100 years.’”

When crews came to install the poles, Graham said a worker asked him why the line wasn’t going up over top of the old one. When Graham told the worker what Hydro had told him, the worker scoffed and said they install lines like that all the time.

“Now they’ve put me in harm’s way, and if I come in contact or damage the line, I’m 100 per cent responsible for that and it’s a real concern,” said Graham. “I don’t want anyone else to get hurt, but I don’t want me to get hurt either.”

A spokesperson from Manitoba Hydro told the Co-operator that all new lines are placed within their assigned one-metre alignment on a public right-of-way (road allowance).

“We do this for safety reasons and so we can meet the power requirements of all Manitobans,” the spokesperson said.

Putting power lines on public property ensures it’s away from vehicle traffic and that it doesn’t encroach on farmland, Manitoba Hydro said.

“If a farmer chooses to cultivate public property, it is important to ensure equipment has proper clearance and care is taken around our infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.

The Birtle Transmission Project, a recently-begun transmission line to bring power to the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, has also cut into Graham’s farmland and, he feels, has compromised his safety.

The towers sit about 100 feet into a field Graham rents, and can be struck on all sides. Graham said he and other farmers in the area asked Manitoba Hydro to build the towers on the property line so they’d pose less of a hazard to farm equipment.

Graham said his 100-foot-wide sprayer will fit between the towers and edge of the field, but said his neighbour has been forced to buy a 50-foot seeder instead of upgrading to a wider one. Another neighbour has expressed concerns about his 125-foot sprayer, Graham said.

He worries he’ll misjudge the distance, said Graham, and he’s seen pictures of a tractor that hit a similar tower.

“That’s no Christmas tree that you’re dealing with. That will kill you quick,” he said.

Graham said his lease on the land is up this year and he has already informed the landowner he will not renew it.

Manitoba Hydro consulted residents, experts and local governments extensively before building the transmission line. Landowners were paid well for the lines, Graham acknowledged.

Graham said some residents and local officials devised a route that would have brought the line through a large section of community pasture where, he says, it would bother no one. He never got an explanation for why this was rejected, he said.

“Due to its effects on intact grassland habitats and endangered birds, that route ultimately didn’t balance the various perspectives on the landscape as well as other options,” a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson told the Co-operator.

Manitoba Hydro said the route-planning process seeks to balance the needs of many local groups and to reduce the overall effect of the project.

The Co-operator described the line crossing Graham’s field to Manitoba Hydro. The spokesperson said that a nearby section of line running north-south was built a long a provincial road allowance. The east-west section near Foxwarren was “placed there to avoid homes along the mile roads, minimize stream crossings and interference with irrigation systems, and reduce the length of the line and the number of changes in direction.”

“This also allowed it to align with the Assiniboine river crossing, which ensures it has the least impact on river banks and steep slopes in that area,” the spokesperson said. “This infield placement accommodates agricultural equipment and minimizes the loss of productive agricultural land in the area.”

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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