Lake sanctuary area may expand

Divers and history enthusiasts could be drawn to wrecks under a plan to designate an area of Lake Ontario and possibly the St. Lawrence River as a National Marine Sanctuary. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Two shipwrecks off the coast of the town of Hammond in St. Lawrence County may have the chance to be included in the proposal to establish a national marine sanctuary on Lake Ontario.

Officials overseeing the projects presented that possibility to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday. Currently, the boundaries of the marine sanctuary would encompass a large swath of eastern Lake Ontario to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, but there’s been interest in possibly extending that upriver to include two easy-to-access shipwrecks, the America and the Keystorm.

Some St. Lawrence legislators appeared largely in favor of extending the sanctuary to include two known shipwrecks in the St. Lawrence river near the Town of Hammond. Legislator James E. Reagen, R-Ogdensburg, even inquired about the possibility of extending the sanctuary all the way to the Moses-Saunders Dam as a way to capitalize on the opportunity to teach history on the river.

“Too many of our families have no idea that shipping was the lifeblood of the early communities in St. Lawrence County as well as Jefferson and Oswego Counties,” Mr. Reagen remarked. “This seems like a terrific opportunity to help reeducate our communities about the resources that are just below the surface of the water.”

Ellen Brody, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the Marine Sanctuaries program touted the benefits of increased aquatic tourism and educational opportunities in her presentation to legislators Monday. She said the opportunities and potential are really driven by local stakeholders.

“I really want to emphasize that every one of these places is different,” Ms. Brody said. “That our approach to designating a sanctuary, that we recognize that every place is different, that every community is different. So, we don’t come in with a prescribed way of how we’re proposing to manage it.”

Several concerns about the project were raised about the potential project. Legislator Tony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, asked about the potential disruption divers or any newly discovered shipwrecks could have on traffic in the river’s channel. Ms. Brody indicated that the sanctuaries are meant to encourage access and any regulations don’t create zones that could hamper traffic on the channel, but rather deal with just the wrecks themselves.

Organizers of the project are hoping to submit paperwork for an environmental review later this year. When they do so, they would like to have a final determination of whether the sanctuary’s borders extend into St. Lawrence County.

The Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary was first proposed by officials from Oswego, Warren, Wayne and Seneca Counties in 2017, asking for consideration for designation by NOAA. Last year, the agency began a formal process of collecting public input and drafting a plan which will eventually be available for review by the New York governor and Congress before being formally adopted.

If approved, the sanctuary would become the 15th such area in the United States and the second in the Great Lakes region. Under the current plan, roughly 1,700 square miles would be included in the designation, which would encompass 21 known shipwrecks and a downed aircraft spanning a period of over 200 years. Organizers note that the designation could open up the possibility for the locating of an additional 49 shipwrecks and aircraft known to be downed somewhere in the proposed area.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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