Farmers decry plan to put transmission towers in fields

Bipole III will see 148-foot-high towers placed mid-field in a swath of farms 
stretching from Langruth to St. Claude and nearly as far east as Steinbach

Manitoba Hydro just doesn’t understand modern farming and its Bipole III route will cause headaches across much of the province’s farming heartland for decades to come, a series of witnesses told the Clean Environment Commission over the past several weeks.

The southern portion of the multibillion-dollar transmission line is slated to come down 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.

Manitoba Hydro doesn’t seem to understand the challenge of farming around the massive towers, an Alberta farm appraiser and planning consultant told the commissioners.

Its original plan to place the towers 20 metres into fields was bad enough — its revised plan to move them 42 metres in is even worse, said Robert Berrien.

“There’s a very significant difference between headland and mid-field,” said Berrien, appearing on behalf of the Bipole III Coalition.

“This is a question, or a case, of be careful what you ask for,” said the consultant. “When the farmer here said 20 metres is not enough to get by, instead of fixing it and going back to the quarter-line, (Hydro) moved it farther into the field and now we have an even worse scenario.”

As Berrien painted a picture of meaningless and poorly timed consultations over the last four years, many of the dozen or so farmers who came to the Winnipeg Convention Centre to support the coalition nodded their heads in agreement.

All five individuals who spoke for the coalition at the hearing questioned the value placed on agriculture by Manitoba Hydro during the route-planning process.

Berrien said Manitoba Hydro’s “route selection matrix” doesn’t give proper weight to agriculture while including inappropriate factors, such as accounting for forestry where no forestry occurs — a charge strongly denied by the Crown corporation’s lawyer.

And critics scoffed at Manitoba Hydro’s estimates that its preferred route will only remove about 17.8 hectares from cultivation, and impact just 131 hectares along the right-of-way.

Navigating large, modern equipment around the towers will be a major challenge and the risk of an accident will be high, said Bert de Rocquigny, who will see the line cut through his farm southwest of St. Claude.

“What we see is a loss of acres and overapplications (of manure),” as a result of manoeuvring around the towers, said the fourth-generation farmer, noting overapplication could result in fines under provincial regulations.

Several presenters said placing the towers along boundary lines and existing infrastructure such as drains would lessen that impact, although that wouldn’t help crop dusters.

“A bipole line and a regular line are completely different,” said Reg Friesen, owner of Prairie Sky Crop Solutions near Niverville.

Flying beneath power lines without a visual reference at speeds of more than 200 kilometres per hour would be very risky, he said. As well, it wouldn’t be feasible to use aerial spraying in the area between the road and the line, and ground spraying such small areas would be cost prohibitive. But leaving areas untreated would up the risk of a crop being reinfested and since many pesticides can only be applied once a year, farmers could experience unnecessary and costly crop losses.

The presentations had an impact, said coalition president Karen Friesen.

“I really think we opened some eyes, or at least I hope we opened some eyes,” said Friesen, who operates a mixed farm with her family near Niverville.

But her group wasn’t allowed to express its view on what it considers the biggest issue — that the west-side route is a colossal mistake.

“We still believe the east-side route works best,” said Friesen, who would see the line, as currently proposed, go right through her home quarter and past her father-in-law’s home.

Manitoba Hydro has rejected a shorter route running on the west side of Lake Winnipeg because of opposition from some First Nations and because it is seeking to have the boreal forest on that side of the lake declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Clean Environment Commission will hear closing arguments in March before making recommendations to the province.

Some west-side opponents are considering asking the courts to intervene, but Friesen said the coalition is still examining its options.

“It’s not over by a long shot,” she said.

For more information on the proposed Bipole project and route go to: http://www.hydro.mb.ca/projects/bipoleIII/description.shtml.

For more on the coalition, go to: *http://www.bipoleiiicoali tion.ca/About/Executive/index.html.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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