Farmers protest Bipole III after negotiations with Manitoba Hydro fail
'Hydro has just been bullying their way through and just going on the land,' Manitoba farmer says
Landowners in southern Manitoba are protesting proposed Bipole III construction plans, saying Manitoba Hydro has failed to listen to their concerns and work out a deal.
"Hydro has just been bullying their way through and just going on the land," farmer Jurgen Kohler said.
A group of farmers and landowners set up at a transmission site about 2½ kilometres east of Highway 206 in the rural municipality of Hanover on Saturday morning. They camped out overnight and about 30 remained at the spot all day Sunday.
The proposed multibillion-dollar transmission line has sparked concerns among property owners in the surrounding area.
"The standoff is about protecting our property rights, standing up for our property rights, because it seems we have no property rights," Kohler said.
Bert Paquet of the Manitoba RCMP said officers have been monitoring the protest since Saturday.
"We recognize the right to peaceful and lawful protest," he said. "At this point our involvement is only to ensure the safety of the parties involved."
While tensions are high, Kohler said farmers like him don't necessarily object to the construction of Bipole III outright. He feels the source of the conflict comes down to Manitoba Hydro's unwillingness to sit down at the bargaining table with farmers and landowners over the past two years.
"I understand there should be collective bargaining that other people enjoy in this province, and we should be no different."
Hydro has refused to negotiate with the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations and the Manitoba Bipole III Landowners Committee, Kohler said.
Hydro has run an easement agreement by affected property owners, but Kohler and other holdouts have refused to get on board because they say it is "fundamentally flawed."
"What they're doing is bullying landowners.... They're holding our land hostage and saying 'If you sign this easement agreement, then you're going to get your land back and all this money,'" he said.
"We have huge concerns on liability, the rights that you sign away and would give up. They're holding that over landowners' heads."
Some who have signed the easement have potentially done so under stress, Jurgen alleged.
"You don't know if they signed the easement because they're OK with it, or if they signed under duress, and that's just not acceptable, so we're standing up for our property rights."
Manitoba Hydro said it has full legal access to the land where construction is active.
"We experience good co-operation from most landowners — we have easement deals with more than 80 per cent of landowners — and we're confident in our ability to deal with these blockades, albeit frustrating and time-consuming for all involved," Hydro said in a written statement.