Manitoba Hydro’s efforts to lock up land required for the Bipole III power line continues to be embroiled in controversy.
While Hydro says it has secured 90 per cent of the land it needs to begin building the 1,400-km project, those opposed to the line say these numbers are misleading because many landowners signed away their land under duress.
Recently Manitoba Hydro announced it is close to securing the land needed to begin construction of the Bipole III transmission line and, according to their media spokesman, are getting closer every day.
“We’ve been averaging about six sign-ups per week since the beginning of October,” said Scott Powell, public affairs officer with Manitoba Hydro.
Members of the Manitoba Bipole III landowner committee, representing 120 landowners, says Hydro is being disingenuous with the facts.
While Hydro says it has secured 90 per cent of the route, a large part of that — over 60 per cent — is Crown land. The utility has actually secured 60 per cent of the private land needed under voluntary easement agreements.
Jurgen Kohler, from the Manitoba Bipole III landowner committee, representing 120 landowners, does not parse words when talking about the negotiation process, or, according to him, the lack thereof.
“Not only is Manitoba Hydro not listening to our concerns, but it is also misleading the general public,” he said.
Powell said since 2012 they have sent out seven different letters to landowners. It undertook four rounds of public engagement and held several stakeholder meetings, open houses and set up landowner information sessions.
In October, Manitoba Hydro met with the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner associations (CAEPLA), a group hired to represent the interests of the landowner committee.
“That meeting was simply an attempt to get the process going,” Kohler said. He calls the threats of expropriation nothing more than “bullying.”
Hydro has said it will begin expropriating land from the holdouts. In those cases, the compensation is determined by the Land Value Appraisal Commission (LVAC) of Manitoba. Powell said landowners will be receiving individual notifications in the next month.
“Expropriation was used in the past on floodway projects, road projects, any long linear project,” said Powell. “It’s not uncommon to have expropriation as part of the process of securing a route.
“Our preference, obviously, is that we would reach voluntary easement agreements with all landowners.”
Voluntary agreements include a single payment of 150 per cent of the market value of the land, construction damage compensation, structural-impact compensation for each tower, and ancillary damage compensation if property is damaged during land use.
So far, according to Hydro, as of November 21, 258 landowners have signed and Hydro is in conversation with an additional 79. That leaves approximately 120 to 150 landowners, primarily on agricultural land in the south of the province, currently opposed to the construction.
This project has been controversial amongst farmers who are concerned the line will damage infrastructure and interfere with agricultural practices.
“There’s huge liability issues,” Kohler said. He’s concerned some of his most productive farmland will be negatively impacted.
He will have to steer clear of the hydro poles with his heavy farm equipment. Aerial spraying, in wet seasons, may not be an option since operators refuse to go near Hydro towers and lines.
Weed control is another concern for farmers. Weeds will be able to thrive in areas near the pole that farmers won’t be able to reach and treat. Landowners will be responsible for any noxious weeds that grow in these spaces.
“We’re not here to stop Bipole III,” said Kohler. “We know it’s coming. We’re not against development. We know it’s coming so we’re going to try and work with it but we want to minimize the impact on our farms.
“We’re standing up for our property rights, for our family farms, for the future of our family farms, and we want an agreement that works for us.
“So when my children farm and they have issues and ask, ‘Dad why did you sign this?’ then I can say, ‘well we did the best we could.’”