The idea of a National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Ontario is much more than just protecting some shipwrecks and giving scuba divers some more areas to discover.
It is an idea that affects everyone in Oswego County and beyond.
“It’s not just shipwrecks,” said one speaker at a meeting in Oswego June 12.
About 100 people turned out in Oswego June 12 to talk about how they think having a National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Ontario is a great idea. Of the 16 people who provided comments at the public session, all voiced strong support for the sanctuary.
The proposal by Oswego, Jefferson, Wayne and Cayuga counties, the city of Oswego and New York Sea Grant to make the water in the southeastern part of Lake Ontario a National Marine Sanctuary began making its way through the approval process in 2015 and has been reviewed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) since 2017.
The public comment meetings are part of the process in forming a marine sanctuary.
Creating a National Marine Sanctuary would help protect the hidden treasures in the cold-water depths of Lake Ontario. It is estimated there are 17 known shipwrecks and one aircraft sitting at the bottom of the sanctuary area.
There also are 52 other shipwrecks and two more aircraft that are believed to be somewhere in the waters of Lake Ontario in the sanctuary nomination region.
But as many people said June 12 in Oswego, it is much, much more than this.
“It’s not just shipwrecks. This is science,” said Jeanie Gleisner of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. “To have NOAA provide opportunities for children, educational programs — there is so much more good stuff involved in this.”
“This is going to drive economic advancement for our community,” said Katie Toomey, executive director of the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce. “It will bring people to our businesses and restaurants.”
“Think of the new industries this sanctuary could bring to our region,” said Justin Wheelock, deputy director of the county’s development agency, Operation Oswego County. “We could have new industries here that we don’t have now in 10, 15 or 20 years from now.”
Joe Holt, of NOAA, is an archeologist who looks at the national sanctuaries as cultural and historic sites. In fact, the likened the Lake Ontario sanctuary site to Jamestown, Va., and said the site would be treated with reverence.
“We want to tell stories to the broadest segment of the public as we can,” Holt said. He said just a archeologists wouldn’t dig at Jamestown looking for more artifacts, the scuba divers visiting wrecks in Lake Ontario would simply gather information and then weave together the maritime history to share with the public.
“These sites are monuments to history,” he said.
Oswego County Administrator Philip Church, himself a long-time scuba diver, has been working on getting a National Marine Sanctuary designation for the southeastern portion of Lake Ontario for many years. He said it could be fashioned much like the sanctuary already operating in Alpena, Mich., where the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is located on Lake Huron.
Church said a number of businesses have sprung up around the sanctuary (a shipwreck tour business is one) along with an interpretative center and other education opportunities surrounding the sanctuary.
Church said it is estimated the Thunder Bay sanctuary generates about $100 million in economic activity, brings in 60,000 visitors a year and supports 1,500 jobs.
Church said previously that a sanctuary also could bring high-tech water research and navigation businesses to town, enhance area museums such as the H. Lee White Maritime Museum in Oswego and provide research opportunities from area school districts and colleges such as SUNY Oswego and even those outside the four-county area such as Syracuse University or the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
NOAA personnel at the June 12 meeting said many groups throughout the United States presented applications for sanctuary status, but the Lake Ontario application was selected because “the resources here are set apart — they are very unique,” Holt said.
Ellen Brody, NOAA’s Great Lakes regional coordinator, said there are four aspects of NOAA’s work in a marine sanctuary: resource protection; research and monitoring; education and outreach; and community engagement. In fact, she said NOAA wants to ensure everyone can enjoy and learn from a marine sanctuary — even those who don’t care for the water.
“We bring the sanctuary to the people, we don’t wait for people to come to the sanctuary,” she said.
It will be another two to three years of work before NOAA makes a decision on the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary.
Other public comment sessions were held in Fair Haven in Cayuga County, Lyons in Wayne County and Watertown in Jefferson County.
Voice your opinion
NOAA is continuing to accept public comments until July 31. Comments can be supplied online at the Federal Rulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov. Use docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0032.
By mail, address comments to Ellen Brody, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 4840 South State Road, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48108.For more information about the sanctuary, visit http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/lake-ontario/.
To see a NOAA video about the National Marine Sanctuary, go to https://www.facebook.com/phil.church.12/videos/10216425833575775/UzpfSTExNTQyNTMwODE6MTAyMTY0MjU4MzgwOTU4ODg/