“We have raised the amount of compensation we’re providing from 100 per cent to 150 per cent of the independent assessment of the land value. That is for the right of easement. The landowner still has the ability to use that land, but they’re getting a one-time payment equivalent to 150 per cent (of fair market value).”
— Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bill Henderson on Bipole III compensation
“It’s not just about the money — it’s about everything.”
— A Red River Valley grain producer, standing outside Hydro’s Portage Avenue head office
From the start, the provincial plan to build Bipole III down the west side of the province and not the shorter and cheaper eastern route has been a public relations disaster of monstrous proportions.
Every action and comment that Manitoba Hydro and the NDP government have made on the Bipole III file have only made the situation worse ... for the government.
And now, it seems, the powers that be are not communicating at all to the people who will be most affected.
On Monday, dozens of farmers and their families huddled outside the Manitoba Hydro building and the Manitoba legislature to protest what they say is the unfair treatment they’ve received over the construction of the transmission line.
The farmers, represented by the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations, told the Winnipeg Free Press that Hydro has refused to answer what they’ll be paid in compensation for the 1,400-kilometre line and the towers that will cross their land.
What they want, they say, is reassurance that they will have some say in the work surveyors and construction crews do on their land.
Affected farmers began organizing last year to restrict Hydro surveyors from working on their land, after they complained that Hydro workers failed to ask for permission to do so.
“They’re surveying the land right now and they weren’t supposed to go into the land and survey if before we have this biosecurity protocol in place,” Brunkild farmer Jurgen Kohler of the Bipole III Landowner Committee said last December. “They just went ahead.”
In its defence, Manitoba Hydro says that the Land Surveyors Act permits surveyors to access property legally, and further, that the Crown corporation has developed a biosecurity policy with input from Manitoba Agriculture and several agricultural-industry groups to prevent staff and contractors from transferring soil diseases from one location to another.
That’s all well and good, but producers who own the land have not been given any such assurance.
In its defence of the decision to build Bipole III on the west side of the province, the government claimed that a community benefits agreement would have to be negotiated with each affected First Nation community on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, something that would cost both Manitoba and Hydro millions of taxpayer dollars.
Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to have the same deference for landowners on the west side. But throwing money at the problem is not good enough. These are not farmers who are anti-development or even anti-Bipole for that matter. These are people who might even be on the government’s side of the issue if treated with some respect.
This lack of consultation with producers simply shows the NDP has learned nothing from the Bipole III debacle, and is still clinging to some paternalistic sense of “we know what’s best for you, trust us.”
In this day and age, that’s simply not good enough.