The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the beginning of a public comment period on its draft environmental impact statement and management plan for the proposed marine sanctuary in eastern Lake Ontario, the next step toward official designation.
“Any possible new sanctuary is a big deal for NOAA, the surrounding community and the nation,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “This is the public’s opportunity to weigh in on how to best preserve the rich history of this unique place.”
The sanctuary could contain up to 1,786 square miles of Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, depending on the exact boundaries. NOAA is still seeking public input on two different alternatives: one includes both Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands, while the other just includes Lake Ontario.
The sanctuary was first nominated in 2017 with broad community support. In 2019, NOAA held a series of public meetings to solicit input about the proposed sanctuary. An advisory council was also created to represent various stakeholders, from recreation to research.
Karen Kuhl of the Cayuga County Office of Tourism said that the sanctuary would serve as a unique museum of the history of the region.
“The amazing thing is that you have centuries of history buried in these waters, starting with canoes and boats of the Indigenous peoples,” Kuhl said. “Gaining the national recognition of a marine sanctuary provides a springboard for interpretation and storytelling.”
In preserving the region’s history, Kuhl said that the sanctuary would serve as a useful educational resource, and the influx of both curious tourists and professional researchers seeking to explore that new resource would boost the local economy.
“The sanctuary will help draw people to the area to learn and engage with it, and allow area businesses to grow thanks to the additional visitation,” she said.
The public comment period ends Sept. 10. After considering public input, NOAA will develop a proposed rulemaking, which will also be available for public review. Only then will NOAA make a final decision on whether to designate the area a National Marine Sanctuary.
“We encourage everyone, especially those in the local communities, to review our draft proposal,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “Your input will help us create a national marine sanctuary that will provide a window into the past and become a national stage for heritage tourism and recreation opportunities in the Lake Ontario region.”
Those interested in making a public comment can visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal using the docket number NOAA-NOS-2021-0050. Information about in-person and virtual public input meetings can be found here. Public comments are also being accepted by mail.
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Featured image: Two divers shine lights on the St. Peter shipwreck in Lake Ontario (Photo Credit: NOAA)