Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill has been a symbol of uncertainty in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.

 

A Manitoba First Nations group has formed a partnership with an independent company to establish the reopening of the rail line to Churchill and potential operation of the grain port in Churchill.

Heard that before? Well, this time we might be in for the real thing.

A recent press release confirms that a consortium of Manitoba First Nations, led by Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson, will partner with iChurchill Inc., a private Canadian company, entering into an acquisition agreement with Denver-based Omnitrax, to take over control of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Railway.

“The port has got all of the grain handling equipment and simply said, the first thing we want to do is resume that commercial activity,” said Louis Dufresne, president of iChurchill Inc., in a phone interview Friday.

Northern residents of the town of Churchill along with Indigenous leaders say the railway and port are crucial to the existence of towns and all First Nations in northern Manitoba.

Last May, a year ago, the Hudson Bay rail line owned by Denver-based Omnitrax sustained flood damage from the spring melt of two late-season blizzards. The damage was estimated at nearly $60 million and Omnitrax balked at its contract to repair the damage and therefore reopen the train line to Churchill. Soon after, a native group under the name Missinippi Rail LP, a consortium of about 15 Manitoba First Nations, signed an informal agreement to purchase the port and rail line for $20 million. Further strengthening their offer and position, the group enhanced their buying power by joining with One North, a group representing First Nations and communities served by the Hudson Bay line.

Hudson Bay track line

Photo by Major MacLachlan (www.zambonista.com/hbr/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With that deal seemingly dormant and not gaining any momentum, this new one is being praised by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

“Hopeful always when I hear these announcements, but of course like the people of Churchill, I just really would like to see the rail line rebuilt and the port reopened with solid commitments with whoever is going to take charge of the ownership that they are committed for the longer term.”

Now, iChurchill Inc. is hoping to formalize and seal the agreement by mid-June in order to commence repairs and reopen the line in time for the fall polar bear season. These details have not been confirmed by Omnitrax as of yet,

Communities have been suffering for a year now with increased costs of transporting goods to the outlying towns in the north. The isolation has touched everyone’s lives in every community. With another end of this dilemma in sight, people have been given hope once again.

iChurchill Inc. is expected to release more information today regarding plans for repairing the rail line and potential reopening of the port at a Winnipeg press conference.

Any new agreement would need approval from the federal government. Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is expected to release a statement Friday.

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