Lake Erie Quadrangle Under Consideration for National Marine Sanctuary
Nomination up for public comment through mid-July
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced that it will consider the Lake Erie Quadrangle for designation as a National Marine Sanctuary. This announcement has come after a lengthy waiting period when then-County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper originally placed Lake Erie in contention for possible consideration for this designation back in December of 2015.
Because Lake Erie has a significant number of shipwrecks below the surface of the water, and because many of those shipwrecks are historic in nature, the designation as a marine sanctuary would effectively protect and conserve those historic sites (and in doing so, protect and conserve the lake in general). This designation would encompass a 740 square mile area adjacent to the 75 mile long shoreline of Erie County. There are at least 35 known historic shipwrecks in Lake Erie, and an additional 161 unverified shipwreck sites within the boundaries of the potential sanctuary area.
These shipwrecks range in significance from the 1838 steamboat Chesapeake, to wreckage from the War of 1812's Battle of Lake Erie, to the water vessels and artifacts of early Indigenous people of the Erie area. The Biden Harris administration has put a significant amount of resources in play to designate as many marine sanctuary areas as possible, and if this does end up happening for Erie, the economic impact (not to mention the positive environmental impact) would be significant.
In a statement released by NOAA, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey commented, "History lies in the waters of Lake Erie. Those waters serve as a reminder of our past and an opportunity to educate us today. Designating the Lake Erie Quadrangle as the region's first national marine sanctuary would draw in visitors from around the nation, bringing their curiosity and their dollars to Erie, and would protect the health of the ecosystem." Additionally, Senator John Fettermen commented, "It's great to see NOAA take this step towards designating a part of Lake Erie as a national marine sanctuary. Lake Erie is not only one of Pennsylvania's greatest natural treasures, but it's also one of my family's favorite places to visit. It is imperative that we protect and preserve its natural beauty for generations to come, and this move is a great step in the right direction."
As a first step in this designation process, NOAA is publishing a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, which invites the public to comment on this first step of the sanctuary designation process. Comments will be accepted until July 18, 2023, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal by searching for docket number NOAA-NOS-2023-0039. Alternatively, comments may also be mailed if postmarked by July 18, 2023. NOAA will host one in-person public meeting and two virtual public meetings. Details of those meetings will be forthcoming.