Rival Northern Group Vying to Purchase Churchill Port

Port of Churchill Churchill, Manitoba

The Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay Railway are still up for sale by Omnitrax. Claude Daudet photo.

With negotiations between Omnitrax Canada and the Missinippi Rail Consortium, now down to just the Mathias First Nation, moving at the speed of a train on the last 100 miles to Churchill, another strong alliance has stepped up and expressed interest in acquiring the port and Hudson Bay Railway. Omnitrax does have a  memorandum of understanding to negotiate the sale of its assets with MRC though the negotiations have recently stalled.

The new alliance called One North has apparently gathered widespread representation from various First Nations of northern Manitoba and incorporated municipalities residing up and down the rail line. The Kivaliq region in Nunavut has also reportedly joined forces with the group as well.

“This is an unprecedented coalition of communities — indigenous and non-indigenous. There is a historical significance here. Never in the history of northern Manitoba have all these communities come together like this in a shared vision.” stated Christian Sinclair, chief of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and one of the key organizers of One North.

So far around 20 communities have joined forces with One North, including The Pas   and the City of Thompson, two key, large communities on the rail line as well as all the First Nation communities served by the Hudson Bay Railway including Fox Lake, War Lake and York Factory. Many of these groups have rescinded their support letters from a year ago backing the Missinippi Rail Consortium run by Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb First Nation and redirected them to One North Coalition.

The group has come together to not only purchase the assets of Omnitrax Canada and run the rail line and Port of Churchill but also facilitate a long term broader plan for the north and its people.

Churchill mayor Mike Spence has co-led the effort with Sinclair..

“We have a real issue here. We need to rectify it. We are putting together a model that will sustain these communities for a long, long time.” Spence said.

Omnitrax Canada place the port, rail line and assets up for sale in December 2015.  Omnitrax president Merv Tweed at that time announced the company wanted to sell its Manitoba assets and was confident the company would have a deal in place before the end of 2015. That didn’t happen.

Dumas and Omnitrax entered into negotiations in January 2016 and although initial meetings seemed to imply a done deal, nothing has seemed to progress further.

When July came around, Omnitrax shocked the community of Churchill by laying off nearly 100 port workers and abruptly closed the doors to the port and cancelled the entire shipping season. No deal with with Dumas and his group was finalized.

Dumas and Omnitrax officials claim that talks are progressing well and that a deal is imminent though no recent news has surfaced on the deal. Omnitrax officials have not been available for comment on negotiations. When reached, Dumas had no awareness of One North’s interests. He did give away a little of his hand by stating; “Well, ask them to give me a call if they want to buy the assets and the interest off us.”

Sinclair admits One North is still trying to get an audience with Omnitrax. They currently have no official standing with the company and have only assembled a team with some technical expertise including Paul Power, an international railway specialist who was a founding director of the Keewatin Railway Company, and Marv Tiller, the original CEO of the North West Company who has had a long career assisting First Nations in successful economic development projects.

“We think Omnitrax does not want to talk to us because they want to get a management contract from the buyer, Missinippi Rail Consortium, so they can make $10 to $15 million advising and managing and have someone else take on the risk as well as cash out on all the government money that has been sunk into the line.” stated Power.

One North has made it clear to the government the direction they are wanting to go in and have met with Cliff Cullen, Manitoba’s minister of growth, enterprise and trade as well as Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr and the Manitoba caucus in Ottawa. Modest funding has been received from the $4.6-million Churchill and Region Economic Development Fund, established in September by the federal government though the group has been primarily self-funded to date.

“The federal government is fully aware of where we want to go,” Mayor Spence said. “They have indicated to us that they like the model, they like where we are going. It plays into what the government wants to do to develop a new strategic plan.”

Arctic Graves May Expose Danger

Old Yakutian cemetery, siberia

Old Yakutian cemetery where the deep thawing has exceeded one meter. Array photo.

This is something global warming proponents could not have predicted when temperatures began to rise faster than expected in the Arctic. Is it possible that a disease that has been eradicated from the world could reemerge again?

Scientists from Russia are worried that deadly diseases such as smallpox and anthrax could be released back into the human population via the thawing of ground covering Arctic graves in a report released by The Sun UK. An anthrax outbreak in the Yamal peninsula last year caused the death of one child and nearly 2,500 reindeer. Thawing reindeer graves is blamed on this particular outbreak and was fairly harmless to people though the fear that smallpox could be released in the same fashion is now prevalent.

Disinfection of the territory in the area of anthrax outbreak in Yamal. Siberian Times photo.

Russian scientists are concerned that smallpox could be released from Arctic graves in Siberia where thawing is occurring three times faster than usual. Climate change is the driving factor behind the melting scientists argue.

The primary concern stems from an 1890’s  smallpox epidemic that killed almost half the population in eastern Siberia. Boris Kerhengolts, Deputy Director for research at the Institiute of Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone in Yakutsk, issued a concerning statement; “during the 1890s, a major epidemic of smallpox occurred in a town near the Kolyma River in eastern Siberia, and up to 40 percent of the population died. Their bodies were quickly buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil. A little more than 100 years later, Kolyma’s flood waters have started eroding the banks.”

Mikhail Grigoriev, Deputy Director of the Permafrost Studies Institute, says “The rock and soil that forms the Yamal Peninsula contains much ice, melting may loosen the soil rather quickly, so the probability is high that old cattle graves may come to the surface.”

Dangers other than smallpox and anthrax might be released from the shallow Arctic graves. Increased melting will possibly unveil centuries – old dangers in the near future.

Omitrax Hit With Arson in The Pas

The Pas arson

Railroad ties owned by Omnitrax in the Pas were destroyed by arson. RCMP photo.

A $5,000 reward is being offered by Omnitrax Canada for information that helps locate an arsonist that destroyed about $1 million worth of railroad ties that were to be used this summer on the Hudson Bay rail – line.

Fire lit up the sky around 5:30 a.m. in The Pas Monday morning from the Hudson Bay Railway yard. With relations strained between local residents and Omnitrax due to their recent abandonment of the Port of Churchill, communities all along the Hudson Bay rail-line are running high on emotions.

Omnitrax will offer the bounty to someone who can supply information leading to both an arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the fire. Fortunately, no people were injured during the blaze.

“We are very troubled by this terrible act,” Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed said in a release.

The company has set up a tip line at 204-947-0033. The local RCMP number is 204-627-6204.

Arctic Art Alert- Whitehorse Horse

The abundance of exhilarating art in the north has necessitated a periodic new posting on Churchillpolarbears.org. We will feature different stories of artists and their art that is prolific all over the Arctic and sub – Arctic. This week’s feature is this amazing found – object art metal horse known as the Whitehorse horse as it’s at the top of Two Mile Hill in Whitehorse,YT created by artist Daphne Mennell and welder Roger Poole. The sculpture is made from donated recycled materials and was dedicated in 2011.

Whitehorse horse Daphne Mennell.

The Whitehorse horse by artist Daphne Mennell. CBC north photo.

 

Whitehorse horse placard.

Placard at the Whitehorse horse. Sue Spargo photo.

 

Whitehorse horse Daphne Mennell.

Close – up of the Whitehorse horse by Daphne Mennell. Sue Spargo photo.

Train Finally Arrives in Churchill

A freight train loaded with food and supplies pulled into Churchill three weeks late on Monday afternoon. Since March 1st, trains have been unable to travel the heavily snow – drifted train tracks than wind there way to Churchill. Two massive blizzards had virtually shut down the town and depleted stores of food and other crucial necessities ..such as beer.

train in Churchill

Train with supplies finally makes it to Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.

snowplow on train churchill

Vintage snow plow on the front of a via train. This is what connected Churchill to the outside world. Rhonda Reid photo.

Cold temperatures like Monday’s -40 C prevail thought the clearing visibility has allowed Omnitrax, owner of the rail line into Churchill, the ability to clear the tracks and allow trains to arrive from the south. Milk, fruit and vegetables were gone and meat of any variety was in short supply. Beer, in the one liquor store in town was down to a few cases.

After Churchill was hit by the third longest – lasting – blizzard in town history, residents began digging out of the massive snowfall that was accompanied by 31 hours of zero visibility and 58 long hours storm conditions.

The landscape in and around town out past the airport and beyond has been described as a moonscape by some. Purely surrealistic conditions!

Churchill blizzard

Blizzard ravished Churchill. Heidi Den – Haan photo.

 

 

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