They’ve accepted that Bipole III is heading their way, but a group of farmers and other landowners in southern Manitoba says they won’t accept how Manitoba Hydro is dealing with them.
“This is about dividing and conquering,” said Karen Friesen, who farms with her family near Niverville. “We want Manitoba Hydro to come to the table to negotiate better easement agreements with CAEPLA (Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations)… so far they haven’t.”
She was one of a few dozen people who descended on Manitoba Hydro’s headquarters in downtown Winnipeg last week, to protest the Crown corporation’s refusal to negotiate a collective agreement through a landowner representative — in this case, CAEPLA.
Hydro argues that by negotiating settlements with individual landowners, it can better provide for landowners’ needs.
“It’s a comprehensive framework that we have prepared and it reflects the unique conditions that an individual landowner would face,” said Bill Henderson, public affairs manager with Manitoba Hydro. “Each farm has a different layout perhaps, a different number of towers, a different distance of line and so on, so that’s the basis we’re going forward on.”
He added agreements have already been reached with approximately 200 landowners. In total, about 400 landowners will be affected by the high-voltage transmission line as it makes its way from northern Manitoba to the American border.
But in southern Manitoba, 102 landowners have joined CAEPLA hoping that negotiating an agreement collectively will lead to a better deal.
Henderson said Hydro is offering a good deal, noting it’s committed to paying landowners 150 per cent of the independently appraised value of their land in compensation.
But Friesen — who also heads the Bipole III Coalition — said it’s about more than the money.
“It’s so much bigger than a little bit of money, there are so many concerns with liability issues and biosecurity protocols,” she said, adding farmers want to know what happens if an implement strikes a tower, or construction vehicles bring a disease like clubroot onto a farm.
Manitoba Hydro contends that it has biosecurity protocols in place, which were developed through consultation with industry and stakeholders.
“We’re very much aware of that issue, we understand the concerns and that’s why we have developed a biosecurity policy,” Henderson said, adding the Crown corporation has taken out ads in farm publications to explain its policies.
More from the Manitoba Co-operator: Transmission projects anger landowners
But ads in local papers are a far cry from sitting down across the table, Friesen said, adding that by the time farmers receive information and offers from Hydro, they will be in no position to review them.
“We’ve tried all winter and we’re about to get busy in the spring. Landowners are going to be farming shortly and this is how Hydro chooses to approach this issue? To wait till we’re busy in the field and then they will send us something?” she said. “They’re doing this not face to face, but with others doing their dirty work, so they can bully us and try and get us to sign these agreements.”
Dave Core, CAEPLA’s CEO, said this is the first time his organization has faced this kind of resistance.
“This doesn’t make any sense. These farmers have signed legal documents saying they want CAEPLA to act for them,” he said. “This is very unusual for me, we usually get companies to the table… I’ve never dealt with anything like this.”
He doesn’t buy Hydro’s argument that it would be unfair to arrive at some agreements collectively after other landowners have already signed deals.
“The thing is, those other landowners don’t care about the issues the way this group does,” he said.
After rallying at the offices of Manitoba Hydro, the group moved on to the Manitoba legislature, where the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, Stan Struthers, agreed to meet with them.
Although Struthers was unavailable for comment, Friesen said the meeting has left her feeling optimistic.
“I haven’t given up… it’s hard not to, but I haven’t yet,” she said.