Department of Environmental Conservation Leads Multi-Agency Enforcement Exercises to Improve Homeland Security, Water Quality and Maritime Safety
Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced the start of "Operation Clear Passage" -- a three-day, multi-agency Homeland Security exercise and water quality/navigational-boating enforcement event on Lake Champlain. The maritime and land based training, which runs from July 22-24, will involve over 17 vessels and more than 75 personnel from 17 federal, state and international agencies conducting law enforcement, homeland security and environmental monitoring operations throughout the weekend. This is the first exercise and operation of its kind to be held on Lake Champlain.
"Lake Champlain is an international gateway that is integral to daily life in the North Country and it's critical we are fully prepared to handle any crisis that threatens it," Governor Cuomo said. "Organization and coordination are key in any emergency response and this first-ever exercise will help ensure that New York and is ready to deal with anything that threatens our heath, environment, or national security on the lake."
The event will feature a federal Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program radiological detection exercise and a maritime-based law enforcement operation. The goals of the operation are to:
- Bridge partnerships and improve coordination with agencies that protect Lake Champlain
- Improve maritime counter-terrorism capabilities and agency responses to natural and man-made disasters through real-world threat exercises
- Protect Lake Champlain water quality from invasive species and other threats such as crude oil transportation
- Improve boater safety through navigational enforcement
- Gather information on human smuggling tactics and trends throughout the Lake Champlain area
The operation is being led by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in conjunction with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, the New York State Police, the New York State Park Police, the New York State Naval Militia, the New York State Intelligence Center, the New York 2nd Civil Support Team, and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office. Partners from Vermont include, the Vermont State Police, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Wardens, the Vermont Urban Search and Rescue, and the Vermont Department of Health. Federal agencies participating include, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, along with the Canadian Border Patrol.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "DEC's Environmental Conservation Offers who patrol our state are the first line of defense in protecting New York’s environment, our natural resources and public health. I commend our staff for coordinating this important training and bringing together all partners for this vital emergency preparedness exercise which will ensure proper coordination in any future environmental or homeland security incidents."
Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner John Melville said, "It is vitally important to collaborate with our federal, state and local partners to prepare for and improve security measures on our waterways and near our borders. The Division is pleased to have been a part of this exercise and to have taken these steps to ensure the safety and security of those who live, work and visit this pristine and beautiful region."
Lake Champlain, which spans approximately 120 miles in length and covers 435 square miles, is a critical international maritime point of entry into the United States and Canada and is a priority for homeland security officials. In addition, the area is an important rail transportation corridor, with nearly 20 percent of all Bakken crude oil passing through the lake’s watershed, posing a significant environmental risk. This operation builds on Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 125 to improve safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to shipment of Crude Oil in the state, including the development of comprehensive Geographic Response Plans that guide spill response efforts.
Lake Champlain Assistant Port Director Steven Bronson said, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection works constantly to enhance our abilities to participate and assist all federal, state, local, and tribal agencies with their law enforcement operations. This spirit of cooperation better prepares all these agencies to handle any and all challenges that occur on a daily basis."
The lake is also an important recreational destination, serving tens of thousands of boaters each year, while providing a drinking water source for over 200,000 residents and visitors. The Lake and its watershed also provide critical habitat for a variety of plants and animals, including many threatened and endangered species. Current threats to water quality from invasive species introductions to sewage discharges are also a top concern for environmental officials.
Major George W. Scribner of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division said, "Through interagency cooperation and a measured combination of education and enforcement, the Vermont State Game Wardens and the agencies involved in Operation Clear Passage are committed to the safety of boaters using the waters of Lake Champlain and to the protection and preservation of the natural resources that abound in it."
Similar joint training exercises have occurred on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in the past, and Operation Clear Passage is the first exercise of its kind on Lake Champlain. Prior to the start of Operation Clear Passage, DEC conducted focused water quality inspections involving illegal sewage discharges, Petroleum Bulk Storage units at marinas bordering the lake, and invasive species threats at boat ramps, at 100 facilities discovering more than 116 violations.