Port mayor says public support for NOAA preserve particularly important with president’s budget looming
Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada on Tuesday asked area residents to ramp up their support for a proposed Lake Michigan shipwreck sanctuary, saying it’s more important now than ever because President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget would significantly cut the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We don’t know how that would potentially flow through to the Great Lakes fund or NOAA,” Mlada said, noting the budget proposal would slash funding for NOAA by 18%. “Clearly, I think there is some degree of concern with the potential cuts.
“Now is the time to let your voices be heard. This is something that’s simply too important. We have to push this down the field and into the end zone.”
Mlada said he is hoping for a good turnout at a public meeting on the sanctuary proposal from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, in the Lakeview Community Room in the former Wilson House in downtown Port.
Public comments on the sanctuary’s draft environmental impact statement and management plans will be taken at the meeting, with input sought on everything from whether people support the overall concept of a sanctuary to the borders of the proposed sanctuary — there are two alternatives, the original three-county plan and one that includes the waters off Kewaunee County.
Mlada and other officials have long touted the impact a national sanctuary could have on the area, in terms of education, tourism and community vitality.
That would especially be true if the sanctuary is approved — something expected by late 2017 or early 2018 — and NOAA decides where to locate its headquarters.
The only other Great Lakes sanctuary, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., draws thousands of people annually to the community.
Mlada noted that an estimated 100,000 people visit Alpena annually, and the impact is significant.
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism estimates that a visitor spends $60 every day at his destination, Mlada said — funds that could help area businesses survive.
He also noted that Alpena had one hotel before the Thunder Bay sanctuary was created, and now it has three.
The proposed three-county Lake Michigan sanctuary — NOAA’s preferred option — includes 37 known wrecks, and officials believe there could be as many as 80 others waiting to be discovered. Fifteen of these vessels are preserved virtually intact, officials said, adding 18 of the known wrecks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ten of the known shipwrecks are in the waters off Ozaukee County, with as many as 11 undiscovered wrecks believed to be off the county’s shore.
Public comments on the proposed Lake Michigan sanctuary are being accepted through March 31.
“This is our opportunity to weigh in,” Mlada said. “We need to do all we can locally to make sure our voices are heard. I don’t think we’re sounding alarm bells, but there is a sense of urgency.”
Ald. Dan Becker concurred, saying, “This is vitally important. There’s an environmental benefit. There’s a recreational benefit with the diving that would be done. There’s obviously a tourism benefit.”
The draft plans for the Lake Michigan sanctuary may be found at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/wisconsin/wisconsin-proposed-deis-dmp.pdf.
Comments should be sent to Russ Green, NOAA’s regional coordinator for the Lake Michigan sanctuary, at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, 1 University Dr., Sheboygan 53081.
They may also be emailed via the website www.regulations.gov and referencing the docket number NOAA-NOS-2016-0150.