The federal government is paving the way for a third party to keep the Experimental Lakes Area in operation.

Last year Ottawa and the International Institute for Sustainable Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding. And now, the government has proposed changes to the Fisheries Act to allow the Winnipeg-based institute to re-open the ELA.

Matthew McCandless, who heads up the project for the institute, said expanded programming at the northwestern Ontario research site could include hosting educational programs and field courses. The scope could also be broadened beyond fisheries research.

"We are going to essentially operate it the way it has been before, but we also see there's a lot of potential this facility has, [including] things we can now do with it, now that it's not a federal fisheries research institute,” he said.

The proposed changes to Fisheries Act were published in Canada Gazette on Feb. 15.

McCandless said the changes are necessary under law to allow the IISD to conduct experiments at the ELA.

"It's not legal to just go and dump chemicals into a lake," he said. "These things have to be done in a very controlled and regulated way, which is why this regulation is required."

The public has 30 days to submit feedback about the proposed regulatory framework.

McCandless said ideally the ELA will be up and running in time for this year's research season so that any ongoing projects will continue without interruption.

"We will be operating [the ELA] in 2014 the same way it was operated in 2013 … all of the research, that all of the projects that are ongoing will continue without interruption in the spring,” he said.

“But, moving forward, we plan to develop a research plan. We plan to figure out exactly what our research priorities will be for 2014 and beyond."