Meeting Focuses On Fishing Safety

OSWEGO, NY – A little more than a week after and incident in Oswego River claimed the lives of two fishermen (the second one died Oct. 5), a meeting was held to discuss ideas to make fishing safer for those who crowd into the river each year for salmon fishing season.

An audience member asks a question at Wednesday night's meeting regarding ways to make the Oswego River area safer for fishermen.
An audience member asks a question at Wednesday night's meeting regarding ways to make the Oswego River area safer for fishermen.

More than five dozen fishermen, local and out of town, gathered in the banquet room at the Econolodge to share ideas with a panel of city and state officials.

Some of the ideas focused on education, especially for out-of-town anglers who aren’t familiar with the Oswego River.

Other suggestions include safety devices along the river, colored light and/or strobe lights to alert people of rising water, hanging a line across the river for anglers to hang on to in case of an emergency and the use of a radio system to update people along the river of water conditions.

George Magaro said when the alarm goes off, the water level drops and stays that way for a period of time.

“That gives guys a false sense of security. So, what do they do? They come back out into the river,” he said. “And then, five, 10, 15 minutes later the water comes up and they can’t get out of the river, they’re stranded on the wall, they’re stranded on the island. This happens numerous times.”

The warning announcement needs to be longer, he said. People need 15 to 20 minutes to get out of the water, he added.

“Don’t wait a half hour, 45 minutes after the alarm to raise the water and have it drop before you even raise it,” he said. “That’s what is causing all this problem.”

Another angler pointed out the day after the first four fishermen were swept away by the rising water, 17 others were trapped in a similar situation and had to be rescued by the fire department.

The warning siren never sounded that day, he said.

“It wasn’t late. It wasn’t early. It never went off,” he said. “The water was still rising; the alarm never went off.”

The day before, the alarm sounded “at least an hour before (the mishap) happened. There were people that came and just walked out (into the river),” he said.

Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie noted that the water rose due to the heavy rainfall and not a release of water from the dam. So the siren wasn’t activated.

“I think it’s common knowledge that anyone that goes out in the river should have some knowledge of, hey, watch the water! Watch the rocks, watch the shoreline. That’s just plain common sense,” another angler noted.

Magaro wanted to know who sets off the alarm to alert people in the Oswego River of rising water. He said he had heard rumors that it was done in Syracuse.

Jeff Auser, Brookfield Renewable Power’s Chief Dam Safety Officer, declined to answer, citing it was part of an internal investigation. The city is also conducting its own probe of the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Brookfield reports that the siren went off twice (11:03 a.m. and 11:33 a.m.) the day the four men were swept into the river.

The 911 call regarding fishermen in the river came in at 12:45 p.m.

Brookfield officials said the company “followed established safety procedures.”

It’s up to the fishermen to heed the warnings, they added.

Alderman Ron Kaplewicz said he has the dubious distinction of falling in the river while fishing quite some time ago.

He said he thought the suggestion for safety lighting in the area was excellent.

“There are folks that I know that come here that don’t hear very well. A red light, green light system could work with both the artificial flow and with the natural flow,” he pointed out. “If you go in there and you don’t have a lifejacket on or some other way to protect yourself, (you’re asking for trouble).”

It’s not only the flow, he said. It is also slippery and someone could fall and hit their head on a rock, he said.

A similar discussion took place about 20 years ago with Niagara Mohawk when they had the power station, according to Dale Currier.

“The same things were discussed then and, obviously, it didn’t happen,” he said. “There are two things here I think we need to separate. One is, the water coming from the power plant and the power plant sounding the signal. The other is Mother Nature. When it rains hard, not just in Oswego but upstream, the canal can come up rather quickly.”

The onus shouldn’t rest solely with Brookfield for installing notification. The community at large profits from the fishing and tourism, he pointed out.

The municipalities, state and Canal Corporation should step up and help as well, he said.

Also, he said the radio idea was a good one.

“If you go to a race or large festival, they have the low-power AM stations and they say, ‘tune to this,’ to get information on the traffic and such,” he said. “That might be a real low-cost easy solution to providing up to date information. It could be update hourly.”

Michael Cortese, of the Canal Corporation, said the organization already issues information to boaters.

“I don’t know how much more it would take to disperse that information to the fishermen. The information’s already there,” he said.

“Right, it just has to be put out to the fishermen somehow,” Currier agreed.

“Other communities have suffered from this. We need to communicate with them and see what they have done that was successful to prevent this (kind of tragedy) from happening again,” said Dave White of New York Sea Grant.

It could be a cost savings for Oswego to get in on similar techniques other communities might be using for water safety, he said, adding that it would help the fishermen as well if they saw consistent safety measures all along the riverways.

Any solution needs to include the out-of-town anglers since they are the ones least familiar with the river, the majority of the audience agreed Wednesday night.

“We will compile all the information we received here tonight and do some research,” said Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman, the meeting’s facilitator. “Then, in about a month, we’ll come back for another meeting and let everyone know what is going on.”

It is unknown how whatever safety measures are decided on will be paid for, he added.

“And then, if everybody decides this or that is the best idea, we’ll see how long it will take to implement it,” the mayor said.