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Proposed NOAA marine sanctuary sparks debate PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 19:00

Opponents voice concerns at forum but one-time critic says Alpena preserve has been a boon to area

    Opponents of a proposed shipwreck sanctuary that would stretch from Ozaukee County north turned out in force at a public forum in Sheboygan last week, but the concerns they voiced can be alleviated simply, one panel member said.
    Get involved in the process and let your voices be heard, Steve Kroll, a diver and member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Mich., said.
    Then, the management plan will address the concerns of everyone and truly become a plan for all, Kroll said.
    Getting involved is how he went from being opposed to the Thunder Bay sanctuary to being a proponent of it, Kroll said in an interview with Ozaukee Press.
    “When they picked me (for the council), I thought, they put the fox in the chicken coop,” he said. “I was against it.”
    But he learned that the council “actually drove the ship,” Kroll said.
    “After a year or so, I realized the things we wanted as a group were actually happening,” he said. “I said to them, prove it. Prove you’re going to do the things you said you were. They did.”
    It benefits the sanctuary to have opponents involved, Kroll added, because they bring up concerns that might not otherwise be addressed.
    “Their environmental concerns should be duly noted and addressed,” he said. “But this is about maritime history and shipwrecks.”
    When the Alpena sanctuary was proposed, Kroll said, the process was different than it is today. It was a top-down process, he said, with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seemingly telling the local residents what they were going to do.
    Now, he said, NOAA officials get input from the community first.
    “You’re going to come up with a management plan that does what people want it to do,” Kroll said.
    He added he doesn’t think the area should be called a sanctuary.
     “I consider sanctuary to be an unfair word,” Kroll added. “It implies ‘keep out.’ In reality, this is managing something for the best use of everyone.”
    Although opponents of the sanctuary fear state and local communities will be giving up their rights to control the lakefront and the lake and property owners will find their riparian rights diminished if not eliminated, that’s not the case, Kroll said.
    “The sanctuary is going to stop at the water’s edge,” he said. “This is about shipwrecks.”
    It doesn’t mean that beachcombers won’t be able to collect driftwood or beach glass, he added, addressing another concern expressed by opponents.
    People will be able to dive on the wrecks, Kroll said, adding that the resources brought to the area by NOAA make it likely that additional shipwrecks will be found within the sanctuary borders.
    Educational outreach is a priority, he added, noting the sanctuary staff has developed a curriculum for students from fourth grade through college.
    “The sanctuary is able to bring the maritime history to everyone,” he said, not just divers.
    The Thunder Bay Sanctuary has 10 to 15 employees, as well as a friends group and 300 volunteers who give 8,000 hours a year to the sanctuary.
    The sanctuary in Alpena has been a boon to the area, he said, something opponents have said isn’t likely to occur.
    The Thunder Bay Sanctuary draws about 100,000 visitors annually, Kroll said, many of whom stay in the area for several days, spending money at local businesses, restaurants and hotels.
    And the visitor’s center is a LEED-certified facility in a converted paper mill, he noted, adding that since NOAA leases the building, it remains on the tax rolls.
    “Alpena is not the city it used to be,” Kroll said, noting another new hotel has opened on the waterfront. The downtown is more vibrant, and the entire area is finding new life.
    Officials in Alpena are willing to share what they have learned with the proposed Wisconsin sanctuary, Kroll added.
    “We’re as excited as you to have another sanctuary in the Great Lakes,” he said. Daily Press