Plan underway to supply Churchill with ice road as rail remains knocked out

Plans are underway to supply Churchill, Man., with an ice road as the rail link that normally provides a lifeline to the community remains out of commission.

Mark Kohaykewych, president of Polar Industries, said Friday the company has partnered with the Fox Lake Cree Nation and Churchill-based Remote Area Services to carve out an ice road along the 300 kilometres of wilderness between the end of the working rail line at Gillam, Man., and Churchill.

He said the partners hope to see some financial support from the Manitoba government, but for now plan to operate on their own tight budget.

“This is a go. Right now without any support from any level of government, we’re sort of tied to a shoestring budget. But we’re hoping that they’re going to come to the table and step up and assist us,” he said.

Kohaykewych said they plan to haul construction equipment and supplies, fuel, as well as potentially food and necessities for stores in the town.

He said the route would take about 30 hours to run, but that time could be cut by as much as half if the company has enough resources to run dedicated teams to maintain the route.

Government support would help with that, Kohaykewych said, while he’s also hoping government will step in with more direct food subsidy support for people in Churchill.

Climate change has made some ice routes more difficult to maintain in recent years, but Kohaykewych said they’ll just adjust maintenance and scheduling to changing conditions to make sure the route remains open.

“All that’s going to happen is we’re going to have to be vigilant with the changing weather, and at times have to shut down like we did last year, just to preserve the integrity and longevity of the road.”

Kohaykewych said the ice road backup plan has been in the works since June when he surveyed the land and realized it could work, but kept quiet to not disrupt rail plans.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t overstep the town’s plan to try and get the rail line fixed, which is a more permanent solution for them.”

Last week the federal government issued an ultimatum to Omnitrax, the company that owns the broken rail line, to fix the track within 30 days or face a $19-million lawsuit because it’s obliged to maintain the line.

Kohaykewych, however, that time is running out to repair the line, so they’re going ahead with their plan.

“As winter draws near, I mean they had a snowstorm a couple days ago up in Churchill, this plan needs to get executed.”