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Sept. 4, 2015

Designation Could Boost CNY Economy and Increase Recreational Use of Lake Ontario Waters -
Four Lake Ontario Counties Join Together to Submit Application for National Marine Sanctuary

SYRACUSE – Representatives of four Lake Ontario counties announced today that they are pursuing a nomination to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to nominate southeastern Lake Ontario as a National Marine Sanctuary (NMS).

The announcement was made at the Lakes of NY exhibit at the New York State Fair by representatives of Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties and the City of Oswego. National marine sanctuaries are designated by the federal government and are intended to increase responsible visitation and use of unique resources by visitors, anglers, divers, scientists, researchers, historians and educators.

“Southeastern Lake Ontario is eligible for consideration due to the age, type and preserved state of numerous historic shipwrecks and many other features,” said Oswego County Administrator Phil Church. “Our goal in seeking an NMS designation is to establish international recognition for the unique features of the region and increase economic, recreational, scientific research and educational activities.”

Church emphasized that “the term ‘sanctuary’ does not mean an off-limits preserve. In this instance it means just the opposite- to promote and increase visitation, understanding and appreciation of a unique area without interfering with its commercial and recreational activities.”

Officials from the four counties, the City of Oswego, state and federal representatives, and other agencies are working together to develop the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary proposal. The application is based on a similar Great Lakes model, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan, where there have been significant economic benefits to the region.

It’s estimated that Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron annually generates in excess of $100 million to the regional economy and supports over 1,500 jobs. The visitor center for Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a major tourism destination for the region, hosting approximately 60,000 visitors annually.

“I commend the leaders of Jefferson, Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne counties for this effort to protect our important coastal waters,” said Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, 21st Congressional District. “Tourism is vital to the economy of upstate New York and this important project would help protect and promote the vast resources that lie beneath these waters.”

“Congratulations to all the partners involved in this historic regional project,” said Congressman Richard Hanna, 22nd Congressional District. “It is admirable to preserve and protect our rich cultural resources and to do so in a way that promotes and encourages tourism and other regional activities. I look forward to supporting this application to NOAA for consideration as a National Marine Sanctuary for our region."

“The region that borders Lake Ontario is a special place—and not just because of what’s on land, but also because of what’s beneath this Great Lake too,” said State Senator Patty Ritchie, 48th District. “Through this partnership, we can capitalize on this tremendous natural resource and everything that lies beneath its surface. By becoming a National Marine Sanctuary, our region has the potential to increase tourism, foster business and job growth, boost our economy and improve our region as a whole.”

Assemblyman Robert Oaks, 130th District, said, “the National Marine Sanctuary designation for our region would create a path toward preserving our Lake Ontario history and strengthening tourism opportunities for both local residents and visitors alike.”

“This designation as a National Marine Sanctuary will help businesses, and showcase our area’s natural attributes and attractions for visitors for years to come,” said Assemblyman Will Barclay, 120th Assembly District. “We already know our region is attractive and Lake Ontario has some of the best freshwater sandy beaches and sunsets in the world, along with rich historical landmarks. This designation is a great opportunity to help others outside the region learn that too and help draw more tourists. Our fishing and boating opportunities are plentiful and obtaining such a designation will be a great attraction for Oswego County and the region.”

“This is a grass-roots initiative with a huge potential to transform our region,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner. “Benefits to local communities could include new jobs, economic gains through new investments in diving and angling charters, tour operations, interpretive centers and museums, increased visitation to local businesses, and research opportunities for colleges and secondary schools.”

The sanctuary could include Lake Ontario waters from the western boundary of Wayne County to the international border in Lake Ontario and east to Cape Vincent in Jefferson County. NOAA would determine the boundaries during the review process, which will involve extensive public participation. If approved by NOAA, the Great Lake Ontario NMS would be part of a collection of a very few spectacular natural settings in the U.S. stretching from the Olympic Coast of Washington State, to Lake Huron, Stellwagen Bank in Maine, the Florida Keys, and American Samoa in Hawaii.

Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, said the proposal is “such a wonderful undertaking/project for Jefferson County and our neighboring counties and city along the shores of Great Lake Ontario. While protecting the history of the underwaters, we will be offering great educational and tourism opportunities!”

“We are very pleased to be linking up with our county and city neighbors to the south and west of us along the shoreline of Lake Ontario for this important new initiative,” commented Robert Hagemann, County Administrator, Jefferson County. “Once our joint application through NOAA has been secured we look forward to expanding our horizons with the attraction of an expanded underwater exploration industry that promises to be as successful -- if not more so -- than the program that we have been studying along the Lake Huron shores of Alpena-Thunder Bay, Michigan.”

“Wayne County is proud to join with Cayuga, Oswego and Jefferson Counties in this cooperative initiative. Becoming a part of the National Marine Sanctuary system will help us guarantee that such national treasures as the St. Peter will be preserved and protected,” said Steve LeRoy, Vice Chairman of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. “This 135-foot coal laden schooner was lost in a winter blizzard in 1898 and came to rest in 117 feet of water off the hamlet of Pultneyville in Wayne County. The wreck, its artifacts and the story that goes with it, are stellar examples of Lake Ontario’s unique maritime history. The number one tourist attraction in Wayne County is our historical lighthouse museum located in Sodus Point. Rich with Lake Ontario’s nautical past, it is visited by thousands each year. Receiving the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary designation will help to ensure that our region’s greatest natural and cultural resource is safeguarded for generations to come. Wayne County enthusiastically joins with the other counties to support this important endeavor!”

“This designation would ensure protection of our waters and pieces of our history,” said Michael H. Chapman, Chairman of the Cayuga County Legislature. “Cayuga County supports the nomination and we look forward to working with our neighboring counties on this regional partnership.”

“This initiative will surely help our other efforts to ensure that tourism continues as an important part of the small business community,” said Oswego County Legislator Morris Sorbello, Granby, chairman of the Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee.

“As the site of the Great Lake Ontario Marine Sanctuary, the City of Oswego welcomes visitors to experience the beauty and history of Oswego,” stated Oswego Mayor Thomas W. Gillen. “Said to be the home of America’s oldest freshwater port, Oswego has been the focus of military conflict and conquest, a site of record trade revenue, and a significant part in the history of American expansion, industrialism and shipping. Countless shipwrecks still rest in the deep cold waters of Lake Ontario and offer an incredible opportunity for historical and recreational diving as well as fishing and boating. The formation of a tourism economy based around shipwreck history and diving would positively impact not only the city, but our entire region. This opportunity is compelling and we are excited to support and embrace this regional initiative.”

“NOAA’s commitment to these National Marine Sanctuaries provides the basis for not only healthy ecosystems, but also thriving recreation, tourism and commercial activities that drive coastal economies through investment in visitor centers and collaborations with local organizations and stakeholders,” said Jean B. Gleisner, program manager for the CNY Regional Planning and Development Board. “As a region, we are extremely fortunate to have an opportunity to submit a nomination to NOAA for designation of Lake Ontario as a National Maritime Heritage Sanctuary. If we work together in support of this initiative, it will bring unprecedented growth in economic opportunity that is founded on preservation and conservation of our region’s significant collection of natural and cultural resources.”

“Oswego Harbor, the oldest freshwater port in the United States, is the epicenter of Lake Ontario’s marine roots,” said Mercedes Niess, Executive Director, H. Lee White Maritime Museum at Oswego. “As a center for discovery, trade, warfare, innovation and commerce the southeastern shores of Lake Ontario played a pivotal role in the making of modern America. The submerged cultural resources contained within those waters serve as a living testament to our combined regional maritime history, heritage and culture. An NMS designation will allow for the preservation, protection, education and access to these truly nationally significant, largely untapped, resources.”

Public meetings will be held across the four counties during September and October to gather input from Lake Ontario fishing charters, marinas and other waterfront businesses, waterfront property owners, environmental groups, elected officials and other stakeholder groups.

Additional information about the Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary application is available at www.lakeontarionms.com. Information about National Marine Sanctuaries is available at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov

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