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Farmers upset over flood compensation take to Manitoba legislature

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

WINNIPEG - Manitoba farmers who say they are still suffering the effects of record flooding in 2011 took to the legislature Tuesday to demand more money.

"People who are artificially flooded are entitled to full compensation," Jonas Johnson, who farms near Lake Manitoba, told the crowd of about 100 protesters.

"The citizens of Lake Manitoba can no longer afford to bankroll the flood-proofing of other areas of this province."

Johnson was one of several producers who blocked the operation of the Portage Diversion channel for 12 hours last month. The diversion takes water out of the Assiniboine River, upstream of Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, and dumps it into Lake Manitoba.

In 2011, when the Assiniboine hit record levels, the government expanded the Portage Diversion and put much more water than usual into the lake, causing nearby properties to be swamped.

The effects are being felt to this day — many farm fields haven't been usable since and almost 2,000 First Nations residents in the area and further west remain evacuated as new homes are sought.

Federal-provincial relief programs normally cover one year's losses for a single disaster and the protesters say they deserve to be compensated for losses in 2012 and this year as well.

Johnson told the crowd he wants to retire and sell his farm, but the effects of the flooding make it hard.

"(The government) chopped a big chunk off my retirement plan. There's not a lot of interest in buying land that can be flooded any time the government sees fit."

The NDP government said Tuesday it has paid out an average of $300,000 per producer in the area for 2011 losses, and would be willing to cover losses in 2012 and 2013 if the federal government gets on board.

"Our position is that this is something that is a reasonable initiative with the federal government, and we have not given up on that," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said.

When Johnson and other farmers set up their blockade last month, the province got a court injunction to clear them out.

That injunction was set to expire this week, and the government was due in court Tuesday to seek an extension. However, the two sides reached an agreement that saw the farmers agree not to set up any more blockades this spring.

In exchange, the government has not sought an extension of the court injunction and has not sought to recoup its court costs.

Meanwhile, many aboriginals who were evacuated from six flooded First Nations in 2011, most notably Lake St. Martin, are still waiting to go home. Many of their houses have mould.

The province had offered temporary accommodation on a former military radar base near Gypsumville, but only a handful of residents accepted. Some said the area is overrun with snakes, while others worried they might be stuck there permanently if they agree to go.

Premier Greg Selinger has said he is committed to finding a solution, but the residents, the province and the federal government — which is responsible for First Nations communities — have to agree on a new location.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130507/farmers-upset-over-flood-compensation-take-manitoba-legislat