Churchill Mayor Mike Spence says Premier Brian Pallister's plan to convert homes in the town from propane to hydroelectric heat would be unnecessary if the rail line were fixed.

At a news conference on Friday, Pallister said he plans to convert at least 100 Manitoba Housing units to electric heat as a way of alleviating some of the economic pressure on the community.

An unusually heavy spring snowmelt damaged the Hudson Bay Railway, the only land link to the community, making propane difficult to ship in.

This came after the closure of Churchill's port last July and reductions to its rail service.

Spence said shipping propane through Montreal and up to Churchill has significantly added to the cost, but he said the first priority should be fixing the rail line.

"Once you've got the train up and running, the rest fixes itself," said Spence. "Then you don't have to worry about the conversions. The whole aspect of shipping propane and all those other things, that changes totally."

Pallister couldn't say how much it would cost to convert the homes.

Earlier last month, the premier said the province was looking at possibly shipping propane storage containers to Churchill. 

Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an email the Crown corporation has been asked to provide information on what might be required to convert a number of public facilities and houses from propane to electric heat, and that is currently being assessed.

Churchill mayor

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence is co-chair of a group representing communities in northern Manitoba and Nunavut looking to buy the port and railway (CBC)

Spence said he hasn't spoken with Pallister about the proposal, but he spoke to Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen and Trade Minister Cliff Cullen and stressed the importance of getting the rail line up and running.

Denver-based firm OmniTRAX, which owns the railway and port, said it is still assessing the damage to the railway and has said it might not have it repaired until spring 2018.

Spence, who is co-chair of a group representing communities in northern Manitoba and Nunavut looking to buy the port and railway, said he believes the damage could be repaired within 45 days at a cost of about $2 million.

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With files from Bartley Kives