Gov’t will pour $9M into Churchill scientific facility


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Manitoba came through Wednesday with the final piece in a western Canadian partnership for a $32 million Marine Observatory in Churchill to study arctic oil spills.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/08/2016 (2491 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba came through Wednesday with the final piece in a western Canadian partnership for a $32 million Marine Observatory in Churchill to study arctic oil spills.

“Everybody’s provided their funding, the project’s moving forward,” said the lead scientist on the project, David Barber, a University of Manitoba professor and Canada Research Chair in Arctic systems science. “We just need to finalize who’s going to build the thing. It’ll be in the next 12 months.”

On Wednesday, Manitoba pledged $9 million towards construction of the observatory.

Conceptual drawing for the proposed Churchill Marine Observatory.
JULIANA KUSYK Conceptual drawing for the proposed Churchill Marine Observatory.

“This project is an important part of our vision for a strong, diversified northern economy,” Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said in the province’s announcement.

“The Churchill Marine Observatory will create up to 21 permanent jobs, boost tourism and transportation in the region and enhance Manitoba and Canada’s reputation as a world leader in Arctic research,” Wishart said.

The provincial funding will flow through the University of Manitoba.

Led by the U of M, the project includes collaboration from the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia with major funding from the federal Canadian Foundation for Innovation and co-ordination from Polar Knowledge Canada, an arms-length agency of the federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs department. Funding is also in place from the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Manitoba was the last major funder to make its announcement.

“This whole project has been about four years in the making and it was established by the previous government and followed up by this one and it’s very nice they’re renewing their commitment to it,” Barber said by phone.

“In the next 12 months we hope to get the building put together, and functional and operating so we can use it for science,” Barber said.

The announcement comes just weeks after Omnitrax revealed it would close the Port of Churchill, shedding more than 50 jobs.

Churchill mayor Mike Spence said the observatory is good news but he stressed the importance of placing the announcement into a wider context.

“The community of Churchill has four pillars, there’s the port and the rail line, that’s one. There’s the Churchill regional health authority, that’s two and there’s tourism and then research and education, that’s three and four. There’s been talk about this for some time and the federal funding came through over a year ago. This is not going to replace the port or the people employed there and nobody should see it as a trade off,” the mayor said.

In 2014, the three universities applied for funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, to cover nearly 40 per cent of the $31.7 million proposal and triggered the commitments from the three provinces. Manitoba is the lead province with the most funding involved; Alberta put up $2.5 million and B.C., $300,000.

“This is a project led by Manitoba, located in Manitoba and the other provinces are partners with us,” Barber said. “The lion’s share is here in Manitoba.”

The observatory will study the potentially profound environmental effects of industrializing the Arctic.

About 20 scientists will live and work in Churchill to develop ways to detect oil in ice-covered waters, study the impact of oil on the northern ecosystem and come up with new technology to clean it up, in the event of a real spill.

Plans call for the observatory to be built on the estuary of the Churchill River where it flows into Hudson Bay.

With archeological and environmental assessments still to be conducted and building permits to be granted, scientists say the building must also be constructed and operated in a way that doesn’t impede beluga or polar bears.

Beluga gather every summer in the estuary, while the shore is part of the polar bear migration route to Hudson Bay.

“It’s a good news story in terms of being able to bring more science to Churchill and to understand a lot of the complexities going on around climate change and transportation there,” Barber said.

Meanwhile, the OmiTrax layoffs took effect Monday, said the opposition NDP, which also issued a statement about Churchill Wednesday. The NDP criticized the Conservative government for inaction on both the port’s closure and a related decision to cut back rail service, the only overland route to the remote town of about 800 on Hudson Bay.

The PC government has been under intense pressure, along with the federal government, to save Churchill.

Pallister refused to bail out Omnitrax, which he accused of trying to leverage tax dollars in subsidies to keep the port open. “I don’t respond ever to threats,” Pallister said.

Once completed, the Churchill Marine Observatory is expected to serve as a year-round hub for scientific research and technology development in the north, with involvement from universities in Canada, the United States and Europe.


Updated on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 4:01 PM CDT: Update

Updated on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 6:22 PM CDT: writethrough

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