Northern Delegation Attempting to Save Churchill Port

Churchill Port, Churchill , Manitoba

Port of Churchill grain shipping operation on the Churchill River. Port of Churchill photo.

A northern delegation comprised of representatives from the Town of Churchill and The Pas, City of Thompson, Hudson Bay Route Association, and the War Lake First Nation have met with provincial and federal governments to try to sort out the recent Port of Churchill closure by american based owner Omnitrax. The company closed the port and issued two – week lay – off notices on July 25th of this year.

No grain has been shipped through the Port of Churchill prior to the shut – down in what Churchill Mayor Spence has characterized a “bumper -crop year”. The “unforseen” circumstances that Omnitrax is siting as reason for closure have still not been disclosed by the company that purchased the facility in 1993 from the Government of Canada which was at the time divesting itself from numerous crown corporations. The current closure affects nearly 200 paid positions all along the Bayline.

Speaking for the northern delegation, Mayor Spence stated “this is an emergency situation for our community, our region and indeed our country. We’ve been told by farmers that there is a bumper crop and as an export country we can’t be shutting down ports if we are able to keep people employed and grow our economy”.

The delegation is in agreement that the Government of Canada at national and regional levels should take responsibility to insure that the Port of Churchill is of national interest. In this light all involved feel the Port of Churchill needs to be reopened and continue to function as a part of Canada’s national infrastructure. This new delegation has pledged to continue to diligently work with the branches of government to find a long term solution for keeping the port operations running.

Michael Constant, Chief of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, reinforced the message by Mayor Mike Spence of Churchill stating “we have all come together to find a workable long term solution and we are prepared to advance a northern regional ownership model that we feel is the best approach going forward”.

Last December a group of Manitoba First Nations purportedly was in the process of finalizing an agreement to purchase the Port of Churchill though that news has simmered somewhat as no definitive sale has been finalized.

 

Port of Churchill up for Sale

Port of Churchill,MB

The Port of Churchill, MB. Photo: Steve Selden

The Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Railway are being put up for sale by Denver based Omnitrax owned by the Broe Group. Both the Hudson Bay line from the Pas to Churchill and the port are being sold together as a package deal.

Prior to 1997 the Government of Canada owned the Port but then divested many of their crown holdings and sold the facility to US based Omnitrax. Because the Canadian National Railway had also been privatized, the line between Churchill and the Pas was also sold to the company.

While the sale announcement has been kept low key the news is now out and potential suitors have yet to come forward.

After anticipating a surge in shipping from the port, years of average growth and a decline this year in the grain shipping out of Churchill have lead management to search for new product avenues. Recent attempts to initiate oil shipments from the sub – Arctic port were quashed by public outcry amid fears of potential environmental destruction in the case of a spill. Protesters fear an oil spill in the Hudson Bay would cause irreversible damage to the fragile northern ecosystem that, among other wildlife, is home to the mighty polar bear.

It will be very interesting to see who steps forward as a potential buyer and what plans are put forth for the port and the Hudson Bay Line. The challenge is huge.

“Obviously, after a tough year in the industry we’ve looked at a lot of things and concluded that either the railway and the port needs more support or perhaps another owner or operator could take it on and see what they could do,” say Merv Tweed, president of OmniTrax Canada. “It is obviously a big challenge, but we feel we’ve put the port and railroad in decent shape over the last couple of years. We’ve brought in a lot of efficiencies, but it is a challenge.”

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