Port of Churchill closing, blindsiding workers, industry alike 

Commodity News Service – The largest employer in Churchill, Manitoba will shut its doors, leaving employees and loaded cars alike stranded on the tracks.

Workers at the Port of Churchill were told Monday, July 25, there would be no grain shipments going through the port this season, leaving approximately 10 per cent of Churchill residents out of work, said Eldon Boon, president of the Hudson Bay Route Association and Manitoba-based farmer.

“Blindsided is a good way of putting it,” said Boon. “It’s really confusing; it just snowballed down the rail line, so to speak.”

OmniTrax, the Denver-based company running the port, gave no inclination of the closure, Boon said, adding he was in communications with officials no more than a few weeks ago.

“It was business as usual-they had some potential customers that were going to utilize the port and were working toward shipments, so we were not expecting this what-so-ever,” Boon said.

The port saw drastically lower tonnage last year, 184,000 tonnes of grain compared to the 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes expected, said Boon. When the association brought up concerns for the 2016 shipping season, he said OmniTrax responded positively, telling them this season would be better.

“They assured us they had some new customers come forward and were looking at some good shipments, but apparently that’s not so,” said Boon.

As of August 8, the port will be completely shut down and all employees terminated, right at the start of shipping season through Churchill, Boon said.

“(There are) loaded rail cars destined for Churchill and they’re sitting on the side, loaded, with nowhere to go,” Boon said. “They’ve cancelled everything.”

Boon said he has been in contact with Provincial and Federal government officials, hoping a combined effort can recover some of the shipping season.

“I’m not sure what (OmniTrax’s) thought process is…but there are huge implications here, not only for Churchill but the whole supply chain,” Boon said.

The Port of Churchill is Canada’s only Arctic port, raising concerns for the province of Manitoba as well, Boon said.

When reached on Tuesday, OmniTrax spokesperson Ron Margulis would not comment on the layoffs, but said the company would be releasing more information in the near future.

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