Churchill port closure could mean small shipment bump for Thunder Bay
Churchill was already in decline, Thunder Bay Port Authority CEO says
This week's sudden closure of the Port of Churchill won't have much of an effect on shipping through the Port of Thunder Bay, the CEO of the local port authority said.
"The two ports, of course, both do grain, primarily," Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority said. "Churchill's much smaller in size. Their historic average shipments were about 500,000 tonnes, whereas Thunder Bay, in the last couple years, is running between eight and nine millions tonnes."
Heney said shipping through Churchill had declined in recent years, and last year, about 280,000 tonnes of grain went through the Churchill port, which is located on Hudson Bay.
The Churchill port was suddenly shut down on Monday afternoon by OmniTrax, the American company that owns the port.
"I think, logically, we would see a small increase in Thunder Bay, because of the closure," Heney said. "But it would not be a noticeable thing in Thunder Bay. To put [500,000 tonnes] in perspective, that's about 10 days' shipment through the port of Thunder Bay."
Heney said the closure of the Churchill port is related to the elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). While it operated, the CWB was in charge of grain transportation in Canada. Now, private companies handle shipping of their own product, Heney said.
"They tend to favour their own facilities, and fortunately for [the Port of Thunder Bay], we have facilities owned by most of the major players in Canada," he said. "They're starting to use their supply chains through Thunder Bay and Quebec, and that's been favourable to the [St. Lawrence Seaway].
Heney said he's hopeful the Churchill port may still have a role to play in Canadian shipping if they diversify cargo as the North develops.
"I have a lot of empathy for the people in Churchill," he said. "Losing industrial jobs is not a good thing."
Heney added he was surprised OmniTrax would shut down the Churchill port this year, since all indications are that the grain crop will be "huge."
"It's strange that Churchill would close in a year with that harvest coming in."