The Canadian National Railway has agreed to provide rail transportation services for a new multimillion-dollar rail spur and oil terminal that will be constructed on the Birdtail Sioux First Nation.
In a letter to Birdtail Chief Ken Chalmers dated April 17, which was obtained by the Sun, CN general manager J.P. Newton confirmed that the company is prepared to partner with the First Nation.
“This will confirm that CN is prepared to provide rail transportation services for this development, once appropriate contractual agreements are finalized,” Newton wrote.
“CN looks forward to working with the Birdtail Sioux community as you move forward with this important economic endeavour.”
As the Brandon Sun first reported earlier this year, Birdtail’s plans call for an eight-kilometre stretch of track running along parcelled sections of reserve land that will be leased out to various corporate partners.
The first major development project along the spur will be a joint venture with Calgary-based Strive Energy Services Ltd. to build an oil terminal, operated under a limited partnership with the First Nation.
Phase 1 of the venture — the construction of the terminal and the rail spur — will produce several construction jobs for Birdtail residents, and somewhere between six and 10 permanent operations jobs at the terminal itself, along with company training.
Each kilometre of track will cost about $1 million to build, bringing the total cost of the first phase of the project to about $10 million.
Strive Energy will likely pay for the terminal construction and a portion of the railway.
At the same time, Fort Calgary Resources, a private oil and gas exploration and production company, plans to begin drilling the first of a series of oil wells on the reserve within the next few months. If successful, Birdtail oil will also flow down the CN tracks.
When reached by phone yesterday, CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the corporation would not be talking about its deal with Birdtail at this time.
“We won’t speak publicly to the discussions while they’re still underway,” Feeny said.
Chalmers, who was “very pleased” with CN’s decision, says the next step will involve extensive consultations between the members of the community, the investors, and representatives from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
“We have to bring everybody involved, the whole community, and there’s going to be quite the campaign on it,” Chalmers said. “We’ll have to flyer out and pamphlet out to the community members that are not living at the First Nation too.
“It will be their decision at the end.”
Those consultations are likely to begin in June, Chalmers said.
In the meantime, Birdtail’s chief and council will conduct site meetings with CN and their business partners for further planning.
“It’s vital for our for our First Nation, and it’s vital to Canada with their persistent talk of economic development on First Nations,” Chalmers said. “That’s what we should be doing. It’s vital that we move forward.”
Chalmers says officials with Manitoba’s Mineral Resources Division have contacted him and offered assistance for environmental studies and other support.
“We’re getting a lot of help,” Chalmers said.
Birdtail’s rail spur project has also been commended by Premier Greg Selinger, who called the First Nation’s partnership with CN, “a positive thing for Manitoba.”
“It’s very impressive to see a First Nation come up with an economic development plan which will create opportunities or jobs for their citizens, and to do it in partnership with a major organization like CN Rail,” Selinger told the Sun in a recent interview.
“I can only congratulate the chief on the initiative he’s taken.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2012