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Any fixed link between Newfoundland and Labrador could cost an estimated $1.5-billion, says the new minister responsible for the federal agency footing much of the bill for a feasibility study.

But Joe McGuire, who oversees the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) says it's too early to tell whether such a link will be built.

"We have no idea if it's feasible," the MP from Prince Edward Island said in an interview Tuesday during a visit to Halifax. "What we're going to do is put this to bed by finding out if indeed it's feasible.

"And if it is, we'll go with the next step. But let's wait and see what the investigation finds out."

Detractors such as NDP MP Peter Stoffer, his party's ACOA critic, have slammed the $280,000 feasibility study - 80 per cent of which is funded by the agency - as a major waste of money.

Mr. Stoffer has maintained the study isn't a high priority for residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. McGuire dismissed such criticism Tuesday, noting that many people were skeptical of plans to build the Confederation Bridge, which now links his home province to New Brunswick.

"It took us 100 years to get to the point where we actually do have a fixed link, that's been working very well," Mr. McGuire said.

"And this is something which the province [of Newfoundland and Labrador]is supporting. It's something that we've done our due diligence on and I think the answers we'll get from the study need to be found out."

He said economic development would be enhanced in Labrador if the link was built.

For about eight months of the year, a ferry crosses the Strait. But after that, people and supplies are carried by aircraft.

Options under consideration for a link, spanning roughly 20 kilometres of the Strait of Belle Isle, include an underground tunnel, a causeway or a combination of the two.

Mr. McGuire had no estimate for the potential amount of traffic the link would handle, saying that too would be determined by the feasibility study.

As for the cost, he said: "The only number I've seen on the estimate of constructing a fixed link was $1.5-billion. It was $1-billion for P.E.I. to New Brunswick."

The project seems to have support among Newfoundland politicians. MP Gerry Byrne and Premier Danny Williams both support a fixed link.

But the Economist, an international business magazine, has suggested the project could become an eastern Canadian boondoggle.

In a recent article, the magazine said the project looks like "a white elephant in the making," and a provincial estimate of 3,000 cars a day using a tunnel "smacks of fantasy."

In 1975, the Conservative government led by Frank Moores committed to building a tunnel across the strait. A hole was dug on the Labrador side and the government spent $75-million before the project was abandoned.