Canadian Manufacturing

First Nation offers to buy struggling port, rail line in Churchill, Man.

The northern Manitoba First Nation called its bid a "historic deal that will provide substantial benefits to First Nations and Manitobans alike"

CHURCHILL, Man.—The Mathias Colomb Cree Nation says it has made an offer to purchase the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay rail line from OmniTrax Canada.

The Denver-based company said last month it had accepted a letter of intent to buy the troubled rail line and port from a Manitoba First Nation, but did not say which one.

Chief Arlen Dumas on Jan. 8 announced his band is inviting other northern First Nations to join a consortium that would own both enterprises.

The northern Manitoba First Nation issued a media release calling its bid a “historic deal that will provide substantial benefits to First Nations and Manitobans alike.”

Churchill is Canada’s only deep-water northern port and relies heavily on grain shipments from western farmers.

Those grain shipments were less than half the normal 500,000 tonnes last year, which prompted OmniTrax to look for a new owner.

“It is a pleasure working with Chief Dumas and his council,” Merv Tweed, the president of OmniTrax, said Friday.

“Their leadership, consideration and thoughtfulness have allowed us to support this opportunity for Mathias Colomb and partner northern First Nations who decide to join the consortium. He has taken bold steps to prove his commitment to the transaction and we are eager to see it come to fruition in the coming months.”

Tweed has previously indicated the rail service, the only land link to Churchill and three other communities from the south, could be discontinued if no new buyer were found.

The northern rail line, which crosses hundreds of kilometres of bog and permafrost, has been plagued by derailments that have intermittently forced the suspension of both freight and passenger services.

OmniTrax had thought of shipping crude oil along the railway, but backed off the plan last year. The proposal was opposed by aboriginal groups, environmentalists and the government of Manitoba.

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