The state Department of Environmental Conservation has a question for those who fish the Lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario: How would you spend at least $12 million designated for improving the fishery?
The DEC soon will release a draft of a plan for spending millions of dollars the state will receive from Occidental Chemical Corp. as part of a settlement for damage done to the fisheries by discharges from its main Niagara Falls plant.
That settlement, announced last June, will funnel $12 million over four years to projects in waters extending from the base of Niagara Falls, then along Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence River.
"It's a great opportunity to do some great things," said Christopher Balk, the DEC's Lake Ontario sport fishing restoration coordinator.
Balk said that while $12 million may not sound like much given the thousands of square miles of habitat, "It will probably enable us to do some things that we may not have otherwise gotten a chance to get started."
While the settlement gives the state $12 million in five payments, the DEC hopes to leverage those funds to generate more money.
"We hope to use it to match funds with other sources of money," said Paul McKeown, fisheries manager for the DEC in Western New York.
The draft plan doesn't contain specific projects, Balk said, but it does propose guidelines for those who will propose them.
The money will be used in four general categories: access, habitat restoration, angler outreach and education, and fish population/management enhancement.
The DEC will hold five hearings on the draft plan. The nearest one will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 in the Lewiston-Porter High School auditorium, 4061 Creek Road, Lewiston.