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Snowmobiler killed at wind-farm site

A 47-year-old RM of Montcalm man died when the snowmobile he was driving struck a fence around the construction site for a wind turbine on Wednesday.

Gerard Fillion was pronounced dead after Emerson RCMP and local emergency personnel rushed to the scene.

Marcel Bissonnette, Letellier’s fire chief and one of the emergency responders called to the scene, said on Thursday the site was in a field and not on a marked snowmobile trail.

“Snowmobilers should know the conditions they are riding in,” Bissonnette said.

“People just have to be careful on a piece of equipment. If not handled properly, it can be dangerous.

“This is a tragedy.”

RCMP said the man was riding his snowmobile near St. Joseph, 97 kilometres south of Winnipeg, when he struck construction material at about 5 p.m.

The site is in the area where Premier Greg Selinger went on Tuesday to announce the first of 60 huge wind turbines were beginning to turn.

Once it is fully operational in March, the St. Joseph Wind Farm will be the largest in the province.

Marcel Fillion, Gerard’s father, said he knows few details about the collision.

“He knew there was a trail through the field to that place – I don’t know if he was on the trail and that’s what happened or if there was something wrong with the machine,” Marcel said.

“It’s about half a mile from his house. He knew the land, no problem. There’s no trees out there.

“But now there’s just the wind farm.”

Marcel described his son, who was employed looking after hogs in the area, as a friendly, well-liked man. He is survived by his partner and the woman’s four girls.

“He was very happy,” Marcel said.

“He loved his family. He has been living with them for 10 years. He was Dad and I was Grandpa.”

Marcel said his son, who would have turned 48 next week, wasn’t an avid snowmobiler.

“He did it once in a while. I don’t know where he got this machine.”

RCMP Const. Miles Hiebert said no other people were injured in the collision and police continue to investigate.

But Hiebert said “any time you operate a machine we recommend driving within your abilities.”

And Ken Lucko, executive director of Snoman (Snowmobilers of Manitoba) Inc., said “the safest place to ride is on a designated trail.

“If you’re not on a trail, you can sink into soft, fluffy snow and you don’t know what’s underneath. A groomed trail is hard-packed.”

Snoman grooms about 12,000 kilometres of trails on Crown and private lands. About 80 per cent of the trails are now open. Snoman’s website, www.snoman.mb.ca, carries weekly updates on trail conditions.

Lucko said he didn’t know any details of the collision, but he said it came just days before next week’s international snowmobile safety week.

“We just want people to be safe and be careful,” he said.

A spokesman for San Francisco-based Pattern Energy, the developer of the wind farm, who learned about the collision from a reporter, said the company was not commenting on the incident out of respect for the victim.