OSWEGO — Federal officials are establishing an advisory council for the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary and seeking local applicants to fill more than a dozen seats representing various interests related to the lake.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) announced Tuesday a decision to establish a national marine sanctuary advisory council for the proposed Great Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary. According to NOAA, the council would serve as a liaison to the local community and assist in guiding the site through the ongoing designation of the sanctuary.

“Community involvement is vitally important to the successful designation and management of a national marine sanctuary,” NOAA said in a statement on the proposed sanctuary’s website. “By bringing diverse community interests together, a council will draw on the expertise of each member to provide advice to NOAA on management, science, service, and stewardship. Council members also serve as a direct link to community members, stakeholders, and constituents, and play an important role in building meaningful partnerships that may benefit the proposed sanctuary.” 

Nominated by a coalition of local governments, plans for the Lake Ontario marine sanctuary are largely modeled after the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. According to a 2005 study, the Thunder Bay sanctuary, established in 2000, has created more than 1,000 jobs and has a nearly $100 million economic impact on the area.

The proposed Lake Ontario national marine sanctuary is described as a “shipwreck sanctuary” that would protect the maritime heritage of lakeshore communities, and the process is moving forward as federal officials started crafting draft proposals in recent months.

Earlier this year, NOAA entered the designation process for the proposed 1,700-square-mile Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, which would protect more than 20 known shipwrecks and potentially dozens yet to be discovered. The proposed sanctuary runs along 93 miles of Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties’ shorelines.

Ellen Brody, Great Lakes regional coordinator for NOAA, previously said the agency started working on the draft documents that would ultimately govern the sanctuary. Brody said resource protection, research, education and outreach, and community engagement are the four basic elements of NOAA’s management plan.

As part of the process, NOAA is establishing the local sanctuary advisory council, Brody said, something the agency has at each of the national marine sanctuaries.

“They are councils comprised of the users of sanctuary waters and stakeholders, ranging from divers to boaters to businesses to economic development to maritime historians,” she said. “They’re meant to reflect the interests of a particular area.”

Brody previously called the councils “really critical to how (NOAA) does its work.”

“We think there are some real advantages to getting this input earlier in the process,” Brody said earlier this year of the council’s role in guiding the formation of a sanctuary.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, who previously said there is “limitless potential for Oswego” if a marine sanctuary designation comes to fruition, said it is “incredibly important to not only have a local voice, but be the loudest voice” in NOAA’s designation process.

“This designation has the ability to be transformative, but in order to fully capitalize on it, we need to have the local voices discuss what we want to happen and how we wish to move forward,” Barlow said, noting all the city’s major initiatives have started with local planning teams. “The NOAA process shouldn’t be any different and we have plenty of people locally capable of pushing this forward in a practical and intelligent manner.”

The advisory council is described by NOAA as a “site-focused, community-based” group established to provide advice and recommendations to the sanctuary superintendents on issues ranging from management to science and stewardship. NOAA says the members represent “a broad cross-section of the communities that lie adjacent to national marine sanctuaries,” and represent such interests as education, research, fishing, diving, boating and shipping, tourism and other activities.

NOAA is seeking to fill 15 seats on the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, including two seats each representing diving and shipwreck exploration, education, economic development, recreational fishing and maritime history and interpretation. Tourism, recreational boating and shoreline property owners would each be represented by one seat.

The council would also include two seats for citizens-at-large, according to NOAA.

“We aim to create a council that is balanced in point of view, experience, and geographic diversity,” NOAA said, noting candidates would be selected based on their expertise relating to the seat for which they apply, their community and professional affiliations, and interests regarding the protection and management of maritime heritage resources.

Barlow said with many stakeholders involved in the waterfront, which he called the community’s “most valuable” yet “very delicate” asset, it would be important to create a diverse council. He said it would also be beneficial to include individuals involved in maritime history, such as those at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.

“We need to be very careful and make sure we include all industries and all parties involved, not just here in the city of Oswego or County of Oswego, but regionally,” the mayor said, adding the fishing and boating community should be closely involved, particularly the charter captains who contribute to the local economy and have much at stake.

Barlow said he would be happy to have a city representative on the council, but noted the designation is “much larger than just the city of Oswego.”

“Oswego County has a huge opportunity and the positive impacts will extend well beyond the city of Oswego, so I certainly believe our county officials need to be at the table and will be at the table,” Barlow said.

According to NOAA, council representatives would meet several times each year in half to full-day sessions, and the meetings would be open to the public and provide a place where community interests, support, and concerns could be heard. 

NOAA is accepting applications for the 15-member council through Nov. 1.

Anyone interested in applying for a seat on the Proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council can visit http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/lake-ontario/advisory.html

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