PRESS EDITORIAL: Conspiracy theories sink in a marine sanctuary

No argument is too baseless, mendacious, contrived or transparently crackpot to hold sway in the weird political world of 21st-century America.

No, we are not referring to suitcases stuffed with stolen ballots and voting machines with traces of bamboo proving Chinese interference and other conspiracy fantasies cited as evidence in the quest to overturn the results of the presidential election.

This is about the nearly successful attempt to kill a government initiative that will be an enduring benefit to the people and communities of eastern Wisconsin, including Ozaukee County, and a safeguard of this region’s most valuable natural resource, Lake Michigan.

The initiative is the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

After being ambushed by what one Republican office holder described as “tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories,” it has been rescued by Gov. Tony Evers.

Gov. Scott Walker initiated the process to establish the sanctuary in 2014. Four years later, after some influential political movers donned the tinfoil hats, he acted to kill it.

In that interim, a political activist from Hudson, located about as far from Lake Michigan as a town can be and still be in Wisconsin, started making noise that sounded like Civil War states-rights rhetoric, claiming the sanctuary violated State of Wisconsin sovereignty as a “land and water grab” by the federal government that.    

He took his conspiracy show on the road and in an appearance at a Sheboygan County Republican Party meeting expounded on the claim that the sanctuary plan was a sinister “quest for added jurisdiction and power” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This reportedly led to angry exchanges between elected officials who identified the claim as pure bunk and party members who bought into the theory that it was a confiscation of landowner rights.

At other so-called listening sessions, the traveling activist managed to get Sheboygan area lakeshore property owners stirred up enough to form a group they called “Lake Michigan is Not for Sale,” an ironic name in that the shoreland owners proceeded to act as though they had bought and paid for Lake Michigan.

This was followed by dire warnings that the owners would be denied the use of the beaches in front of their homes, that driftwood and beach glass would be off limits as government property, fishing and boating would be restricted and, scariest of all, the sanctuary would encourage the public to walk on “their” beaches.

It’s doubtful Gov. Walker, who nominated the waters off the Port Washington-Kewaunee County shoreline to become a NOAA sanctuary at the urging of local officials and business, historical, educational and environmental groups, believed any of that.

But the fact the activist leading the obstruction to the sanctuary had been named “volunteer of the year” by Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin, the political pressure organization funded by those deep-pocket conservative donors, the Koch brothers, may have influenced his decision to rescind the nomination.

Evers reinstated the nomination, NOAA approved it and now the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, covering nearly 1,000 square miles of Lake Michigan area, including the sites of 36 discovered shipwrecks and many more yet to be found, will be established.

The historical treasure represented by the shipwrecks will get enhanced protection, which is welcomed by the state stewards of the shipwrecks, and public awareness of Lake Michigan’s role in American history and its abundant natural assets will grow, bringing visitors and economic benefit to the port cities along the sanctuary coast.

State ownership and control of Wisconsin land and waters are not affected and landowner rights are protected. And driftwood and beach glass remain free of government control.         Meanwhile, the tinfoil hats can be put away until the next big conspiracy.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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