Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Experimental lakes deal isn't imminent: feds

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OTTAWA -- Acting Fisheries Minister Gail Shea denied claims the government is preparing for the immediate sale of the Experimental Lakes Area.

Shea responded this week to allegations from the Coalition to Save ELA, which said Friday it had been told the government had a buyer lined up and an announcement was imminent.

"The news release from the Save the ELA coalition is misleading and their claim that a deal is imminent is absolutely false," Shea said in a written statement.

She did not elaborate, except to extoll the $8 billion in new funding the government has announced for research and science in the last five years.

The ELA is a unique program allowing scientists to conduct experiments on 58 lakes in northwestern Ontario near Kenora. Last May, Ottawa announced it is cutting the $2-million operating budget for ELA as of April 2013 and will either sell the program for $1 or close it.

Scientists around the world have decried the cuts, claiming the ELA is the only research facility of its kind and has helped lead to public policy in critical areas including acid rain, mercury poisoning and phosphorus buildup.

Diane Orihel, head of the Coalition to Save ELA, said if it's true there is no deal imminent, she fears that means the government is going to shut down the program. Officials from public works were sent to the site this fall to generate reports on what it would take to decommission it.

Orihel is adamant the government keep funding the ELA, so its research is done for the public good and not for special interest groups that may not be willing to share their results with the public.

"We have money for economic action plan ads, F-35 fighter jets and fake lakes for photo-ops, but the federal government claims not to have $2 million per year to fund ELA -- an invaluable investment for the health of Canada's fresh waters and fisheries," Orihel said.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2012 A6

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