Manitoba

Churchill residents ordered to conserve propane as tanks begin to run dry

The town of Churchill has issued an emergency public notice to conserve propane, with critically low supplies and no shipment on the horizon for a few weeks.

Emergency order comes as town waits on deal to reopen rail line — its main shipping route

A massive load of propane sealifted to Churchill in October is running dry. (CBC News )

The town of Churchill has issued an emergency public notice to conserve propane, with critically low supplies and no shipment on the horizon for a few weeks. 

Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization has told community leaders the town's propane supply is below acceptable margins. Citizens and businesses are being told to cut back on their use of the fuel. 

A new shipment of propane is due in Manitoba's most northern community by sea in mid-July. The town normally receives the gas by rail until a flood swept away portions of the track more than a year ago.

With Environment Canada forecasting temperatures to drop to 2 C Friday night and 1 C Sunday night, Churchill mayor Mike Spence says it's a less than ideal time to ask residents to reduce their use of the heating fuel.

"This is a difficult time to ask the community to cut back and conserve propane so that we don't run out," he said in a statement. 

"Northern communities have faced significant hardships through the loss of rail service and we need a lasting solution to repair the rail line and a transfer of ownership."

A massive sea-lift of propane last year filled the community's tanks for the winter but the supply is nearly exhausted. 

In a news release, the town asked residents to conserve propane.

It asked residents to conserve energy while managing temperatures in homes and businesses whenever possible, keep windows and doors closed to conserve heat and use safe alternatives for heat, like electric space heaters or wood stoves.

The town is part of a consortium of northern communities and First Nations and Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings in negotiations with the federal government to purchase the damaged rail line and port facility from Omnitrax Rail Inc. 

Those efforts have been painfully slow for people in the community as a federal negotiator has been working for several months to hammer out a deal.

Denver-based Omnitrax Rail has steadfastly maintained it can't afford to repair the rail line and is now in defiance of a Canadian Transportation Agency decision requiring the company to fix the damage. An Omnitrax spokesperson told CBC News early in June the company was considering appealing the ruling to a federal court.

The deadline to appeal runs out next week.

The announcement of the propane shortage comes just days before federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is expected in Churchill for a series of meetings and announcements.

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