The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a notice in the Federal Register Wednesday, April 17, stating its intent to conduct public scoping, which is the first step in the designation process to establish a maritime heritage sanctuary in the southeastern waters of Lake Ontario.
The initial application was submitted in 2017 by Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego and Jefferson counties and the City of Oswego to have the 1,700-square mile area designated as a marine sanctuary, based on the cultural and historic significance of the waters, including submerged shipwrecks and at least one submerged aircraft.
"I'm thrilled to join with Oswego County leaders, advocates, and members of the community today to announce that the Lake Ontario application has been selected by NOAA to move forward in the National Marine Sanctuary designation process," said Rep. John Katko (NY-24). "This designation has the potential to grow tourism and boost our local economy while preserving some of our region's most historic and unique natural resources. I now look forward to hearing community feedback as we move to the next step in this process and NOAA begins to conduct public meetings throughout our region."
Letters of support endorsing the nomination were submitted by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, and regional levels, including elected officials, government agencies, a Native American tribe, historical societies, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and education groups.
Oswego County Administrator Phil Church, who chaired the 4-county nomination task force, said the next steps in the process will be for NOAA to receive public input, gather additional data, prepare a draft environmental impact statement and develop a draft management plan for the proposed sanctuary. NOAA will conduct public meetings in June.
“This project evolved with bipartisan support of many levels of government, and with the support of businesses, museums and other interested parties,” said Church. “The purpose of the sanctuary is to protect and increase awareness of a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks, to foster partnerships with education and research groups, and to increase opportunities for tourism and recreation as part of the regional economy. The proposal does not include any new regulations on fishing, scuba diving, water quality, or commercial shipping and dredging.”
Within the nomination area there are 22 shipwrecks and one aircraft whose locations are known. The oldest date from the late 1700s. The historical record indicates that an additional 46 shipwrecks and two historic aircraft are likely within the nomination area.
According to NOAA, eastern Lake Ontario is considered one of the most historically significant regions in the Great Lakes. Lake Ontario has dominated maritime trade and transportation for centuries, beginning with early indigenous peoples. During the colonial period, the lake was a strategic theater of conflict among European powers and the young American republic. Later, this region was critical to the development of the American West and the nation’s industrial core.
NOAA will conduct public meetings to provide information and gather input on the proposed national marine sanctuary in June. Meetings will be:
- Monday, June 10, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Fair Haven Fire Hall, 14447 Fair Haven Road, Sterling
- Tuesday, June 11, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Emergency Operations Center, 7376 Route 31, Lyons
- Wednesday, June 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Lake Ontario Conference Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego
- Thursday, June 13, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Jefferson Community College, 1220 Coffeen St., Jules Center, Room 6-002, Watertown
People may also comment online by going to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov. Use docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0032; or by mail by addressing comments to Ellen Brody, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 4840 South State Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. All comments must be submitted or postmarked by July 31.
Additional information is available online at: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/lake-ontario/
Representative Anthony Brindisi, 22nd District, NY:
"This designation by NOAA will help the rest of the country see what we in Central New York already know -- Lake Ontario is a truly unique and incredible resource. Thank you to the strong local leadership from Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne Counties, the City of Oswego, Congressman Katko, Congresswoman Stefanik, and the many advocates and members of the community who were committed to making this a reality. This is a win for our communities, for our history, and for our economy."
Oswego County Legislature Vice Chair Linda Lockwood, District 11:
“With our rich heritage and abundant natural resources, we’re very excited to enter the next phase of the federal designation process. Being named a National Marine Sanctuary will benefit all our communities along the coastline through increased tourism and economic growth and enhanced educational opportunities. We’re very happy to be working with NOAA and our partners at all levels as we continue to move forward towards the possible designation as a National Marine Sanctuary.”
Oswego County Administrator Philip Church, Chairman of the Nomination Task Force:
"The proposed shipwreck sanctuary is remarkable, not only for its vessels which date back to 1780, but also for the collaborative effort that created the nomination. County, city, state and federal officials and agencies worked together toward this single goal, with the support of over 200 local governments, businesses, schools and community organizations. I'm looking forward to that broad collaboration and participation continuing throughout the designation process."
Oswego Mayor William Barlow:
“It is very exciting to see this process moving forward. I believe a marine sanctuary along the shore of Lake Ontario can be transformative and beneficial not only for the city of Oswego, but for our entire region, especially the lakefront communities. This entire process is a very lengthy and thorough process and I appreciate all the help our government officials and stake holders have put into it. We will keep working to secure this designation and ensure the city of Oswego plays a central role moving forward.”
Wayne County Board of Supervisors Administrator Rick House:
“Wayne County is extremely excited about this opportunity to bring to the attention of our local residents and potentially thousands of visitors, our hidden underwater heritage. We are totally committed to its success.”
Cayuga County Legislature Chair Tucker Whitman:
“Our communities, partner counties, State of New York, and NOAA have been working for several years to establish the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Lake Ontario. I have been proud to support these local efforts to preserve our maritime heritage, as well as the exciting tourism and economic development opportunities that a National Marine Sanctuary Designation will bring.”
Jefferson County Administrator Robert Hagemann:
“We are pleased to join with our neighboring Lake Ontario Counties in celebrating the commencement of the next stage of formal review by NOAA of our joint four-county proposal to establish a National Marine Sanctuary off the south eastern shores of Lake Ontario. After four years of critical study and evaluation to develop and submit a formal application to the federal government, we are now realizing the opportunity to have NOAA officially undertake critical public informational meetings and impact studies as a prelude to a final designation at some point in the foreseeable future. Our corner of Lake Ontario is rich with maritime artifacts and history that we wish to both preserve and showcase to the world! Developing a National Marine Sanctuary provides us the key mechanism to do so for the benefit of generations to come.”
Legislator Tim Stahl, Chair, Oswego County Legislature Economic Development and Planning Committee:
"This step represents important progress in our regional economic development efforts. NOAA's announcement that they intend to pursue the designation process verifies the significance of the vast freshwater resources and important history of Lake Ontario and its communities in the four-county area. I congratulate Phil Church and the members of the NMS task force for their continued success in the NMS designation process."
Senator Patty Ritchie,48th District:
"Lake Ontario is one of New York State's most spectacular natural resources, and I am excited about this next step toward the designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary. The designation would highlight the significance of the lake, help us draw more visitors to our beautiful region of New York State, and boost our economy."
Assemblyman Will Barclay, 120th District:
“Designating Lake Ontario as a National Marine Sanctuary is a great opportunity for communities along the shoreline, including Oswego County. It will draw new tourism to the region and will benefit our local communities. I am pleased to hear that progress is being made at the federal level and we are getting closer to receiving this designation.”
Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, 130th District:
“As a Wayne County Legislator for nine years, I am well aware of the potential that the sanctuary designation holds for our region. At least 60 shipwrecks are believed to have sunk in our shared waters. The designation represents an awesome opportunity for us to develop a very unique and important cultural resource that will not only boost the area’s economy, but also protect and preserve important elements of our heritage.”
Mercedes Niess, Executive Director, H. Lee White Maritime Museum:
“This is an exciting time for our waterfront community and the H. Lee White Maritime Museum is honored to play a role in the marine sanctuary application process. We look forward to continuing to work on the Great Lake Ontario NMS committee, helping to preserve this unique aspect of our country's maritime heritage for generations to come.”
Jean B. Gleisner, Program Manager, Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board:
"The Proposed Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary resource area represents an unusually significant collection of United States maritime heritage artifacts and deserves the protections offered through federal designation. Designation of a National Marine Sanctuary in the eastern Lake Ontario region will catalyze a greater recognition of the area's numerous heritage resources, and with recognition, their preservation and rehabilitation can be better supported at the local level. Designation of this resource will bring maritime science education opportunities, through student collaborations with NOAA scientists, to the region's youth, from grade school through college - very real studies out on the lake. It will bring much needed investment to our connected communities, attracted through related tourism initiatives. There are no negatives in this proposal, and I'm hopeful and excited for designation!"
David G. White, Coastal Recreation and Tourism Specialist, New York Sea Grant, Oswego:
"New York Sea Grant is pleased to be among the many partners supporting the development of this proposal over nearly two decades. NOAA's announcement that the agency intends to move forward with the designation process is a wonderful and well-deserved recognition of the vast historic and cultural submerged resources of eastern Lake Ontario."