Kids camp fight comes to legislature

June 3, 2009

Environmentalists opposed to a year-round youth camp on an isolated lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park presented letters to Premier Gary Doer Tuesday from more than 600 people opposed to the project.

“There’s no way the Doer government received 600 letters from people who support this project,” Eric Reder, Manitoba campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, said.

The Wilderness Committee has been spearheading public opposition to a proposal from the Tim Hortons Children’s Foundation to build a $10-million complex for disadvantaged youth near Meditation Lake.

Opponents, including campers and cottage owners, have been critical of the secrecy surrounding the project and that the proposed site is in a no-development zone.

“It’s important that the public understands that it’s not just a bunch of canoeists who oppose this project,” Reder said.

“We’ve had a response that rivals some of our major campaigns.”

Meanwhile, a senior Conservation official said the department will spend the next few weeks reviewing the submissions it received during the 30-day public consultation period, which ended Sunday.

Larry Teetaert, eastern region parks manager, said he hasn’t been able to determine the strength of the opposition or support for the plan.

His department will forward a recommendation to cabinet in late summer on whether the project should proceed. In the meantime, staff will also spend the summer collecting water quality samples from Meditation Lake.

Teetaert said his staff will also review alternative sites for the camp in the event the province decides another location would be best.

Although the Conservation department hasn’t officially endorsed the Tim Hortons project, Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said last month that he is pleased with the proposal and believes that Meditation Lake is the best site.

But Struthers said Tuesday it’s possible the Meditation Lake site is not the best place for a youth camp.

“Anything is possible,” Struthers said. “We don’t go into these kinds of consultations lightly.”

Tim Hortons already operates five youth camps in Canada and another in the U.S. but the one planned for Manitoba would also become a training facility for youth leaders who will work at the other sites.

The proposed Manitoba camp would have several year-round buildings and accommodate 260 youth and 70 staff during the summer

There were two open houses where officials met with the public to present the plans and answer questions.

Water quality at the lake has emerged as an issue. Meditation Lake is a shallow body of water; recharging occurs through groundwater, and the outlet is narrow and choked with vegetation.

Reder said Conservation department staff have acknowledged to him that Meditation Lake has the greatest amount of toxic algae of all lakes in the Whiteshell.

The Wilderness Committee is demanding that the province: protect Mediation Lake from development; conduct air and water quality research in the area to better understand how toxic algae blooms develop; and introduce a new policy that stipulates public approval must be obtained before development can occur in public parks.

Struthers said the letters delivered Tuesday will form part of the wider consultation process over the proposed camp, and whether it’s located at Meditation Lake.

—With files from Bruce Owen

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