HAMMOND — As plans progress toward potentially establishing a federal marine sanctuary on Lake Ontario, officials from St. Lawrence County appear largely in favor of being included in the project.
In August, representatives from the project presented to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators the possibility of extending an area of Lake Ontario currently in the process of being designated as a marine sanctuary up the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to the waters off the town of Hammond. There, the sanctuary would encompass two shipwrecks, the America and the Keystorm, which would join 21 other known wrecks in the Lake Ontario portion.
“I think that it’s a great opportunity,” Legislator William A. Sheridan, R-Hammond, said. “It’s an opportunity to place St. Lawrence County on the map in a very big way. It will be a good thing for our tourism industry here I think as well.”
A few years ago, a few officials in Oswego County began the process of applying for the designation of a portion of Lake Ontario as a national marine sanctuary. The process is facilitated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After clearing initial hurdles, Oswego County has continued to spearhead the planning and establishment of the sanctuary, which is currently planned to encompass about 1,700 square miles of the lake up to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
Planners on the project approached St. Lawrence County over the summer before presenting the possibility of extending the sanctuary down the river to Hammond. When the possibility of extension was brought before the county Board of Legislators in August, there was a decent amount of interest, but some skepticism over what regulations or prohibitions would come along with it.
“I’m not a big fan of restrictions on property owners, people who enjoy fishing or navigating the river. So, if I thought for a minute this plan was going to be involving that sort of thing, I would be totally against it,” Mr. Sheridan said, dismissing those concerns. “(The Hammond town supervisor) Ron (Bertram) and I just discussed it and we don’t think, from what we can gather, through all we know about it and what we’ve read about it and what we’ve heard in terms of presentations, it doesn’t look like that’s the case.”
At the August presentation, NOAA Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the Marine Sanctuaries Program Ellen Brody said the sanctuary designation doesn’t come with sweeping restrictions, and the only regulations would likely be applied very narrowly to the wrecks themselves. She also said divers and other enthusiasts could access them without blocking shipping or other activity in the river’s channel.
Ms. Brody also emphasized the educational and historical preservation aspect of the sanctuaries. While plans aren’t set in stone for this aspect, it’s possible that, with the sanctuary designated, federal dollars could flow toward programs to study and educate the public about the shipwrecks.
Legislator James E. Reagen, R-Ogdensburg, asked about the possibility of extending the sanctuary all the way to the Moses-Saunders Dam in Massena to encompass even more wrecks and other historical sites down river.
“We tend to forget that there’s a lot of wrecks in the St. Lawrence (River) and it doesn’t end at Hammond. It certainly doesn’t end at the mouth of Lake Ontario,” Mr. Reagen said. “It would be a great tourism draw into this area to make more people aware of the wrecks that do exist, and if we can get the federal government to do the marketing and education for us, I think that’s a terrific idea.”
Ms. Brody said Thursday that a draft environmental review of the proposed plan should be completed sometime over the winter. At this point, the county Board of Legislators hasn’t taken any specific action regarding the sanctuary.