Planning Director: St. Lawrence River marine sanctuary wouldn’t affect boating & shipping; no spending required
BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week
St. Lawrence County’s planning director says if part of the St. Lawrence River is designated a federal marine sanctuary, it wouldn’t affect local or state governance on the surrounding shorelines, and the county wouldn’t be required to spend any money.
County Planning Director Jason Pfotenhauer updated the board on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposal to include St. Lawrence River waters near Hammond as part of a proposed federal Lake Ontario marine sanctuary.He said this is because of the presence of two shipwrecks there -- the America and the Keystone.
Legislator James Reagen, R-Ogdensburg, said he thinks the sanctuary should be expanded as far east as Massena to highlight the centuries of local nautical history and other shipwrecks in that area.
“I think a great majority of people in St. Lawrence County don’t realize the shipping industry did not start with the Seaway. It goes back 300 years -- the French and Indian War (now referred to as the Seven Years War), the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, commercial shipping for the 250 years after that,” he said. “There are shipwrecks off the shore of Ogdensburg I would like this committee to take a look at. I’m sure there are others in the Massena area, and others.”
He called the proposal “a great opportunity” for the county. Reagen added that the marine sanctuary could have the ability to “make people across the nation aware St. Lawrence County is here.”
Pfotenhauer said there wouldn’t be any restrictions on the use of the waters.
“From my research, there are no restrictions to fishing, commercial or recreational navigation,” Pfotenhauer said, adding that St. Lawrence Seaway shipping would also not be impacted. “There could be potential increased boat activity … could be considered problematic in circles.”
He said there aren’t many marine sanctuaries in the United States. This would be one of about a dozen.
“It’s national recognition, potentially for a portion of St. Lawrence County. There would be attention brought to the nautical history, the shipwrecks,” Pfotenhauer told the legislators.
He said the marine sanctuary boundaries would be set at the “average of the low water location on the shoreline, so there wouldn’t be anything on the shore.”
Legislator Kevin Acres, R-Madrid, wanted to know what would happen if one of the shipwrecks were to wash ashore.
“What happens if you have a nice home on the lake and a ship, from the forces of the waves and stuff, brings it from the bottom and puts it on the shoreline?” he said. He didn’t get an answer.
Pfotenhauer said he heard concerns from communities in Wisconsin where NOAA is proposing a similar sanctuary. He called their worries “unfounded.”
“There’s very clear language in the NOAA correspondence that there is no loss of state sovereignty … they are accessible. Shoreline control concern, the boundary of the marine sanctuary will go to the … average of the low water location on the shoreline, so there wouldn’t be anything on the shore,” the SLC planning director said. “It’s clear there wouldn’t be any red herring concerns.”
He also noted that it won’t cost St. Lawrence County anything, but in the future the Board of Legislators could decide on spending money for educational or recreational partnerships tied to the marine sanctuary.
“The federal government is responsible for marine sanctuaries. They have an allotment from Congress to pay for these. It is formula-driven,” he said. “There is always opportunities for additional partnerships that could be struck that would require funding … That would certainly be a decision that would be made by this body, and not the state or a marine sanctuary entity.”