AFTER more than a year of discussions, Omnitrax Canada and a consortium of First Nations led by Chief Arlen Dumas of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation have signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the potential sale of the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill.
Although it is non-binding, Omnitrax said in a release Thursday the MOU will "commence the transfer of ownership."
Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed said he believes the deal can get finalized by this spring.
No details of the potential transaction — such as financial considerations, future operations or public-sector involvement — were released.
Omnitrax, which is owned by the Denver-based Broe Group, made it clear a year ago it wanted to sell its Manitoba assets, which it has owned since 1997. It laid off most of the Port of Churchill staff just prior to the 2016 shipping season, and no grain was shipped from the port this year. The Hudson Bay Railway has cut freight service to Churchill to just one train per week.
Tweed said the MOU will mean Dumas and his group will be able to start talking with potential grain shippers for next year.
"We wanted to make sure the public is aware of what is going on," Tweed said. "It is important for people to know that the 2017 grain season is in peril, and a deal has to get done."
Omnitrax and the Dumas consortium, called Missinippi Rail Consortium, signed a non-disclosure agreement about a year ago. Despite claims from another group, which included Churchill Mayor Mike Spence and Opaskwayak Cree Nation Chief Christian Sinclair, it was working on a solution, Tweed said Omnitrax has only ever dealt with the Dumas group.
"We are grateful that Omnitrax Canada believes in our process and our people and is willing to get started now. 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," said Dumas.
In an interview, Dumas would not confirm which communities are part of his consortium, but he said he was not excluding any.
There was no indication from Tweed there have been any new developments in Ottawa’s relative interest or involvement in the transaction. All Dumas would say is that discussions with the federal government are on-going.
Earlier this month, Omnitrax sued the Manitoba government for more than $1.7 million, alleging it reneged on a promise to cover losses of the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill in the 2015 season.