Hydro under pressure: Manitoba landowners lobby to ‘Stop Hydro Bullies’

By Scott Billeck

One Manitoba farmer feels Manitoba Hydro is stealing land from landowners through bullying and intimidation as they push their agenda for BiPole III.

But the Crown corporation, which oversees the province’s major energy utility, says each and every claim posed on a new website are untrue.

StopHydroBullies.ca launched over the weekend with the aim of making property rights for farmers and landowners along the BiPole III line an issue in Manitoba’s upcoming April 19 provincial election.

The website, run by the Manitoba BiPole Landowner Committee (MBLC), isn’t holding back any punches either.

It alleges that Manitoba Hydro refuses to negotiate in good faith with farmers and landowners in the province. The group says they feel Hydro isn’t respecting the property rights of family farmers  – in some cases using bullying and intimidation tactics – and will not recognize the Canadian Association of Energy & Pipeline Landowners Associations.

“We’re trying to educate the public on Manitoba Hydro not coming to the table to negotiate,” said MBLC chair Jürgen Kohler on Monday. “They’ve stolen the land. Shame on them, Shame on (NDP leader) Greg Selinger. Shame on (Manitoba) Hydro. This government has acted in such bad faith. Hydro has acted in bad faith. It’s unbelievable. People need to be made aware.”

The farmer from Brunkild says the site is designed to put pressure on Hydro for their treatment of landowners in the area affected by the BiPole project.

Bipole III, according to Hydro, is a new high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission project required to improve overall system reliability and dependability. The projected completion date for the project is 2018.

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“We’ve spent almost two years discussing this with property owners and reached voluntary-easement agreements with over 80 per cent,” said Scott Powell, the manager of public affairs at Hydro.  “We have compensated 150 per cent of value of the land, tower placement fees – a one-time payment based on crop in the field – and any damage compensation.

“We negotiate with landowners themselves.”

Kohler says it isn’t enough. While he isn’t opposed to BiPole III or the compensation package, he says Hydro is not taking into account the future.

“It’s about property rights, fundamentally,” he said. “Getting your property rights recognized is what we are advocating for. This is a line that will be there for a 100 years. We, as farmers and landowners, are faced with extra costs each year the line is there.”

The website claims farmers and landowners know “how to best take care of their own land, livestock and agriculture and that they have the best incentive to ensure environmental protection and biosecurity, not the government and crown corporation.”

It’s not the first time the MBLC and Hydro have clashed.

Landowners in southern Manitoba protested the proposed Bipole III construction plans at the tail end of February, saying Manitoba Hydro had failed to listen to their concerns.

Hydro says the project is vital to keep the power running from the top of the province to the bottom in case of inclement weather causing damage to the lines.

“Reliability is key for Manitobans,” Powell said. “We’re willing to listen to farmers and their concerns.”

Kohler is demanding that Eric Robinson, the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro; Ron Kostyshyn, the Minister of Agriculture; and Kelvin Shepherd, the president and CEO of Manitoba Hydro, agree to meet with the Manitoba BiPole Landowners Committee to hold negotiations.

Both ministers were not immediately available for comment.

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