New step taken in Port of Churchill’s potential sale

WINNIPEG — Ownership of the Hudson Bay rail line and shuttered Port of Churchill may change soon.

The port’s current owners and a collection of northern First Nations have inked a formal agreement, according to a company news release.

Omnitrax, the rail company that currently owns the northern Manitoban port, has signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the potential sale and ownership transfer to the Missinippi Rail Consortium.

This step comes after a year of due diligence and the signal from the consortium that it intends to move forward, a statement from Omnitrax said.

The consortium is now able to negotiate with vendors ahead of the 2017 grain season.

The deal is non-binding and the sale remains subject to scrutiny from the federal government.

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Ottawa is still looking at supporting the transaction, but in the meantime the 2017 grain season hangs in the balance, as does the continued shipment of freight through the North, the statement said.

It’s not yet clear how many, or which, First Nations are part of the consortium, but Mathias Colomb First Nation made an offer to buy the port in the past. The consortium is still open to other members.

“We are grateful that Omnitrax Canada believes in our process and our people and is willing to get started now,” Mathias Colomb Chief Arlen Dumas said in a news release.

“Ensuring First Nations ownership in these assets is a vital part of ensuring long-term viability in the North. Now we need the Government of Canada to complete their review so that this process can be concluded as soon as possible.”

Omnitrax has owned the port for nearly 15 years but laid off a number of staff and closed the port ahead of the 2016 grain handling season. The rail line now provides freight service to Churchill once a week, compared with twice a week previously.

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