Experimental Lakes scientists kept in dark on facility's future
Researchers forced to call Department of Fisheries and Oceans to confirm closure
Max Paris, Environment Unit, CBC News
Posted: Mar 21, 2013 5:20 AM ET
Last Updated: Mar 21, 2013 9:20 AM ET
Scientists with ongoing projects at the Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario had to contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to find out they would not be allowed to work at the facility this summer.
Principal researchers on a mercury contamination study in the area initiated and arranged a conference call with David Gillis, director general of the Ecosystem Science Directorate at DFO.
The scientists say they had only heard about the cancellation of the 2013 field season through rumours, gossip and the media but nothing officially from the DFO. They were confused about why the government would mothball the facility for the summer when DFO only gives up control on Sept. 1.
"I don't feel that the people who have dedicated themselves to working out there [in the Experimental Lakes Area] for years and years and who have huge investments in their research activities, I don't feel that they are being treated with the respect that they deserve," said Dr. Carol Kelly a scientist with the METAALICUS (Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loadings in Canada and the U.S.) project.
METAALICUS is a joint project between Canadian and American government and university scientists that began in 2000. The scientists are studying the effects of mercury deposited from air pollution. Results from the study led the U.S. government to change mercury emissions regulations for coal-fired power plants.
'If you're not interested in making any regulations then ELA would not be useful to you.'—Dr. Carol Kelly
Because METAALICUS has been at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) for so long, scientists store a good deal of equipment at the facility. Dr. Cindy Gilmour of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland has many large instruments there and asked Gillis what would happen to them. Gillis asked for a list of inventory.
Gilmour also asked about the future of the ELA a number of times during the conference call. Gillis told her the situation was "complex."
"I'm worried that by not answering our questions about what will happen to the station and by asking for inventory that these are signs that DFO is perhaps preparing for the eventuality of demolishing the station," Gilmour told CBC News.
Beyond her worry, Gilmour was particularly frustrated by DFO's lack of transparency about the future of the ELA.One of the 58 lakes that make up the Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario. (Lindsay Furtado/Trent University)
"If they're negotiating in good faith to turn the station over to another operator, why not be transparent about what they are going to do there this summer," she asked.
A spokesman for DFO said the department has been clear the federal government will no longer operate the ELA facility as of March 31.
"The department continues to prepare the facility for a third-party operator or the decommissioning of the site pending negotiations with third parties and the Province of Ontario," Frank Stanek told CBC News in an email Thursday. "The department continues to work with scientists to ensure they have the opportunity to retrieve any items."
Stanek also pointed to other recent research investments by the department, adding, "science continues to be the backbone of Fisheries and Oceans Canada."
But Kelly believes the decision to shutter ELA is ideologically motivated. She said the unique whole-ecosystem experiments at the facility give very precise answers to vexing and complicated environmental questions.
Kelly said the Conservative government prefers vague answers that allow them to question scientific findings. That, she said, makes it easier to advance their resource development agenda.
"If you're not interested in making any regulations, then ELA would not be useful to you," Kelly said.
Latest Thunder Bay News Headlines
- Harper chief of staff resigns amid Senate expense scandal
- Nigel Wright has resigned as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, following revelations he wrote a $90,000 cheque to repay living expenses claimed by Senator Mike Duffy. more »
- Strike delays elevator service in Thunder Bay
- A province-wide strike is causing longer waits for elevator service in Thunder Bay. Fourteen hundred Ontario members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors workers have been off the job since May 1. more »
- Neskantaga First Nation finds hope after suicide crisis
- Artwork created by young people in Neskantaga First Nation will soon be on display in Toronto as part of an effort to help the community recover from a suicide crisis. more »
- Anglers face shortage of minnows heading into long weekend
- Anglers in the Thunder Bay area may have trouble buying bait minnows this long weekend, because they are in short supply. more »
Top News Headlines
- Senior Pakistani politician shot dead
- Gunmen in Pakistan have killed a senior member of Imran Khan's Movement for Justice (PTI) party outside her home in Karachi. more »
- Search continues for 2 missing New Brunswick fishermen
- A recovery effort has resumed for two missing fishermen off the coast of New Brunswick, after a distress call was issued from their boat early Saturday. more »
- Car drives into crowd at Virginia parade
- About 50 to 60 people were injured after a driver described by witnesses as an elderly man drove his car into a group of hikers marching in a parade in a small Virginia mountain town. more »
- Spectator killed at Edmonton Jeep event
- A 20-year-old woman died Saturday during an event for Jeep enthusiasts held in a parking lot just west of downtown Edmonton. more »