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Group tries to make waves for proposed marine sanctuary PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 17:19

Grassroots organization says planned shipwreck preserve would infringe on rights; agency says claims are baseless

 Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are continuing to work on final plans for a proposed marine sanctuary that would stretch from Ozaukee County north, a process that could be completed this fall.
    But even if the final sanctuary plan, environmental impact statement and rules make it through the review process, designation could still be delayed thanks to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
    The order halts the designation or expansion of national marine sanctuaries without a “timely, full accounting from the Department of Interior of any energy or mineral resource potential in the designated area.”
    NOAA officials are trying to determine what impact that could have on the proposal, Russ Green, NOAA’s regional coordinator for the proposed sanctuary, said.   
    “We’ll keep working on the proposal and see what it means,” he said.
    Even as officials move ahead with plans for the proposed sanctuary, a group opposed to the preserve has recently started work to stop the movement, erecting a “No NOAA” billboard along I-43 in Sheboygan County. A similar message is being shown on the signboard at the Schmit Bros. auto dealership along Highway 33 in Saukville.
    “We find it unnecessary and redundant and a waste of money,” said Judith Perlman of Cleveland, a retired attorney who is working with the group.
    Perlman said she fears that if the sanctuary is approved, the state and local communities will be giving up their rights to control the lakefront and the lake.
    “My concern is we’re giving away control of Lake Michigan and what that’s going to mean for our future,” she said.            She said the group fears the sanctuary will diminish if not eliminate riparian rights — the rights of property owners along the lake — and add another level of bureaucracy that would make it difficult for people to build piers and other improvements.
    That’s due, in part, to the fact the sanctuary’s proposed borders are the ordinary high water mark, she said.
    The ordinary high water was selected because it’s the regulatory boundary used by the State of Wisconsin, according to NOAA. The single boundary allows the state and NOAA to co-manage all shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary.
    Riparian rights would also not be affected, according to NOAA, adding that the sanctuary proposal recognizes the state’s sovereignty over its waters and submerged land.
    Perlman said she is also concerned that the proposal is so loosely worded that NOAA would have far greater power than people expect.
    “The rules are extremely vague. The discretion being given to NOAA is extremely wide,” she said. “Why can’t the law be more specific? It’s like we’re inviting a 400-pound gorilla to the dance and everyone’s going to be surprised when it leads.”
    They could be read to give NOAA authority over more than just the shipwrecks, she said, extending instead to prohibit people from collecting driftwood or beach glass because they could have come from a wreck.
    “That would not be our intent,” Green said. “Our focus is on shipwreck sites.”
    Perlman also questioned the benefits of a sanctuary, saying the state already protects shipwrecks adequately and the tourism and educational benefits touted by NOAA are overstated.
    “Do you really think there are hoards of tourists who will flock here year after year? It defies my imagination,” she said.
    Instead of a sanctuary, Perlman said, the government should put its money directly into clean water initiatives and educational programs.
    Green noted that Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., the only Great Lakes sanctuary, gets about 100,000 visitors annually, as well as dozens of researchers.
    “It does have an economic impact,” he said.
    Many of the concerns coming to light now were also expressed when Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was proposed, Green said.
    “Over the last 17 years, you can see how those concerns were addressed,” he said.
    Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada said he “firmly believes” the sanctuary will be a benefit to the entire area, with impacts on everything from education to economic development to collaboration with other communities.
    “This is a really unique thing for the State of Wisconsin that’s going to benefit our community for generations to come. I think it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to see a discernible, positive impact,” he said.
    The federal resources that come with a sanctuary could lead to the discovery of additional shipwrecks, Mlada said, which will benefit everyone.
    “The story to be told is what we’re doing for future generations to discover, identify and protect these wrecks,” he said. “I just see so much potential upside to this.”
    Green noted that there was a public comment period after the draft environmental impact statement, rules and plan were created. Comments received at that time are being taken into account as the final documents are written.
    The final proposal will define the sanctuary boundaries — NOAA is looking at two alternatives, one that extends north to Two Rivers and the other to Algoma — Green said, as well as some regulatory options.
    Among those options are whether there should not be any anchoring on shipwreck sites or no anchoring on sites where there is an anchoring buoy.
    After they are completed, the documents will be reviewed by NOAA staff members before being sent to Gov. Scott Walker for review. They will then be sent to Congress for approval.


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