For Shilo-area farmer Dale Miller, just getting to work is a chore.
With the only convenient access road to a half section that his family has owned for decades blocked off earlier this year by CFB Shilo’s former base commander, what was once a simple 10-minute drive over military property now involves a trip over the Stockton Ferry, a winding 20-minute drive over local grid roads with two railway crossings, a trip through a neighbour’s yard, and a boat ride across the river to his truck parked on the other side.
It’s about as far from handy as you can possibly get.
He keeps a stash of tools in the vehicle so that in case of an equipment breakdown, he might be able to do a quick fix without having to retrace the circuitous route.
“It’s frustrating,” said Miller. “They are not willing to use common sense.”
He’s determined to farm his land, but he’s also equally determined not to sign the 30-page waiver that CFB Shilo is demanding in exchange for letting him cross base property.
That’s because the army-approved route adds almost 30 km to the trip there and back. What’s more, he’d have to endure up to a two-hour wait for military personnel to drive up from Shilo proper to let him in. Once inside, he’d have to call again and ask them to let him out another lengthy wait.
Dale is afraid that if he puts pen to paper, it would amount to a “surrender” to the military’s new rules from which there would be no going back.
In the meantime, his brother Roger, who has signed the same temporary annual waiver that hunters use to access CFB Shilo property, has managed to swath some of the wheat and bring equipment in and out. His permit expires in October, however.
By taking the scenic land and water route, Dale has been able to put up about 200 bales of hay there this summer, but he wonders how he’ll get them out of there.
“If I can’t get the bales home, I can’t feed the cows this winter,” he said, shaking his head.
The Millers are hoping that
reason will soon prevail in the dispute that began after Lieutenant-Colonel John Schneiderbanger arrived a couple of years ago at the sprawling army base just east of Brandon. The new boss immediately started tightening up the rules, saying that unexploded shells and bombs posed a risk to farmers using military access roads.
Schneiderbanger retired earlier this summer, and has since been replaced by Lt.-Col. Luc Genereux.
The Miller family is hoping that the new base commander will be more sympathetic to their predicament and let them cross base property using the same nearby route that they have used for over 40 years.
But according to Shilo public affairs officer Lori Truscott, the new base commander is still settling in and hasn’t had time to discuss the issue with local farmers. A request for an interview with Lt.-Col. Genereux was declined.
In a May interview, Lt.-Col. Schneiderbanger told the Manitoba Co-operator that a remotely operated electronic gate with an intercom link would be installed at the main access gate sometime in June.
That hasn’t happened. At any rate, the Millers say that the gate is too far away, and not an acceptable solution because using it would waste huge amounts of time and fuel.
“We expect the gate installation to start in October,” Truscott wrote in an e-mail exchange.
Other farmers have also been affected by the new access rules.
Luella Outhwaite’s family has a half section of canola and fall rye hemmed in by the base that is nearly ready to harvest. They are refusing to sign the waiver, too, for fear that it might set a permanent precedent.
“We still can’t get to our fields unless we go through them,” she said. “You can’t even walk out of there unless you phone them.”
The new rules are “crazy,” she said, because they are only effective for restricting access for farmers who have a legitimate reason to cross base property. Non-farmers – and she suspects even off-duty military personnel – routinely flout the rules on their ATVs via broken fences.
In the meantime, the Outhwaites are hoping that their local municipality will be able to negotiate an acceptable deal with the new base commander.
“He’s just moving in, so I don’t really know what he’ll be like,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see what goes on.” [email protected]