Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clock ticks on talks for future of Experimental Lakes Area

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 The Manitoba and Ontario governments have moved to fund the ELA.

MIKE APORIUS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The Manitoba and Ontario governments have moved to fund the ELA. Photo Store

Talks to transfer operations of the Experimental Lakes Area continued Monday as the midnight deadline neared.

"We're waiting for some kind of announcement," said Diane Orihel, leader of the Coalition to Save Experimental Lakes Area.

"I heard 12 minutes ago there was nothing yet, negotiations were continuing, and everyone was hopeful a final agreement would be completed today," said Orihel Monday afternoon.

The Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development is set to take over the ELA once a transfer agreement has been signed. The IISD would not comment.

The remote lake region near Kenora has been used since 1968 for freshwater studies that have helped improve conservation in Canada and around the world. The research has produced groundbreaking discoveries on the effects of acid rain, mercury and phosphates on freshwater lakes.

The Harper government announced in 2012 it was closing the station to save $2 million per year.

The Manitoba and Ontario governments rode to the rescue. Manitoba pledged $6 million over five years and Ontario $2 million per year, on an interim basis, to keep the ELA going, to be operated by the IISD.

The transfer talks began over a year ago and have already passed one interim deadline -- Sept. 1, 2013. Manitoba and Ontario put up extra cash to keep the ELA open and set a new deadline of March 31.

Another interim deal is possible but that would mean postponing research at the ELA for another year. The research season is "ice-off to ice-on," said Orihel, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Alberta. The latest negotiations lasted into Sunday night and throughout the day Monday, Orihel said.

She speculated contentious issues in the transfer might be how to share past, present and future liability for the work there. That includes any cleanup of past experiments at the site, which is comprised of 58 small freshwater lakes and drainages.

The ownership of assets, such as motorboats, motor vehicles, buildings and lab equipment, is also an issue.

There also needs to be a legal framework for the experiments. It is illegal to pollute lakes as the ELA does in the name of research. The lakes cleanse themselves once pollution is stopped, Orihel said.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2014 A10

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