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Feds could protect Ontario's shipwrecks 

Federal officials are considering an application to designate a swath of eastern Lake Ontario as a marine sanctuary, and they're seeking public comments on the proposal.

The 1,700-square-mile sanctuary would extend from Wayne County's western border to the area of Cape Vincent in Jefferson County. Its primary purpose would be protecting "historically significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The part of Lake Ontario identified in the marine sanctuary nomination contains 21 known shipwrecks and one known aircraft, but historical records and news reports indicate another 47 shipwrecks and two aircraft could be in the zone. If the federal government designates the area as a marine sanctuary, there could be possibilities for research coordination and funding. The discovered wrecks have been found largely by recreational divers and "shipwreck research hobbyists," says the proposal.

"No government- or university-sponsored professional scientific shipwreck surveys have been undertaken of this historic area," it says.

The sanctuary nomination focuses on maritime heritage and doesn't propose regulating fishing, water quality, or other "natural resource attributes of the area," says the proposal. The document cites some of the region's history. Oswego Harbor, for instance, is the oldest freshwater port in the United States, and it was an important port on the Great Lakes.

The wrecks on the lake's eastern end are unique among the Great Lakes because of their age, some dating back to the late 1700's. Among them are vessels from the War of 1812.

The marine sanctuary nomination was submitted by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Oswego Mayor William Barlow, and local legislative leaders from Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga, and Wayne counties.

NOAA is holding four public sessions on the proposal from June 10-13. The closest one to Rochester will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Wayne County Emergency Operations Center, 7376 Route 31, Lyons.

Anyone who wants to submit a comment through the website can go to www.regulations.gov and enter docket number NOAA-NOS-2019-0032. More information on the proposal is available at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/lake-ontario/.

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