/ Updated 

A $40 billion inter-ocean canal could be Nicaragua's saving grace from poverty.

Nicaragua's government and Hong Kong-based HKND Group on Monday unveiled the 173-mile route of the proposed waterway that could rival the Panama Canal. The proposed route begins in the Pacific Ocean, snaking through Lake Nicaragua and ending in the southern Caribbean.

While the canal has the support of President Daniel Ortega and most Nicaraguans, it's stirred some debate among legal and environmental experts who say it could violate the country's national sovereignty or damage the affected ecosystems, respectively. Others fear the project is not economically feasible.

Opposition liberal deputy Eliseo Nunez called the announcement "a propaganda game, a media show to continue generating false hopes of future prosperity among Nicaraguans."

Junsong Dong, chief of engineers for HKND, said the canal project will employ about 50,000 people directly and indirectly benefit another 200,000.

Construction is expected to begin in December 2014 and take five years.

--The Associated Press