Unexpected closure of Canadian port hurts grain producers

28.07.2016

The unexpected closure of the Port of Churchill in far northern Manitoba, Canada, is bad news for the region’s grain producers, who were expecting to use the port to move this year’s large harvest.

OmniTrax, which owns and operates the port, announced during a meeting on July 26 with its employees that it closed the Port of Churchill. The port ships an average of 514,000 tonnes of grain per year.  

“At a time of the year where grain should be flowing from the port, this decision will hurt a community that relies on the economic spinoffs,” said the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce in a press release. “Any closure, for any length of time, will only serve to lessen its importance and impact on the movement of product.”

The port is Canada’s only deep sea Arctic port and operates from late July through mid-November shipping grain, as well as other crops around the world. The port also handles various cargos and provides custom handling services including; consolidation, marshaling, packaging, and heavy equipment moving.

The port has the storage capacity of 140,000 tonnes. It can ship 1,200 tonnes per hour and receive 1,100 tonnes per hour. It also has wheat and durum cleaning capabilities of 660 tonnes per hour and canola cleaning of 250 tonnes per hour. In 2012, the Port of Churchill conducted significant renovations to the cleaners doubling the capacity and adding canola cleaning as a new service offering. It has approximately 10 kilometers of track available for railcar unloading and equipment storage at the port.

CBC News Manitoba reported grain exports through the northern Manitoba port have increased slightly in the past 12 years, according to the Canadian Grain Commission. Most of the grain passing through the port is headed to destinations abroad such as Mexico, Italy and Nigeria.

Until 1997 the port was owned by the government of Canada through a crown corporation called Ports Canada. In 1997 the Canadian government was divesting its interest in many crown corporations and sold the port to OmniTrax owned by The Broe Group and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, U.S.

During this time the government also privatized Canadian National Railway, which operated the rail line between The Pas and Churchill. In the same year, Canadian National Railway sold the line to OmniTrax, the current owner and operator of Hudson Bay Railway.

OmniTrax put the rail line and port up for sale in January. The government has invested milliions of dollars in shipping subsidies and grants through the years.

The chambers said it wants OmniTrax and the Manitoba government to create a Northern Commission to assess the province’s transportation infrastructure and its limitations on northern development.

The commission should document and identify the current facilities, assess additional requirements and propose options for repayment of capital costs. In addition, the province should “develop a strategy and mobilize investment in the Port of Churchill as a strategic transportation hub for Northern resupply, Arctic sovereignty, and as an Arctic Gateway to international markets.”

Churchill, Manitoba is a small community of approximately 800 people which can only be accessed by rail or air. The Port of Churchill was the largest employer in the town, employing approximately 10% of the population during seasonal operations.


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