Nearly 4k Miles of Lake Huron May Lose Protection Under Trump Order
by Garret Ellison
ALPENA, MI — A 3,850 square-mile expansion of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron could be rolled back under President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider protections for offshore waters that could be opened to oil and gas drilling.
The 30-day public comment window began June 26 on the Department of Commerce review of 11 national marine sanctuaries and monuments following Trump’s April 28 executive order, called “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”
The order targets any marine sanctuaries or monument established or expanded since April 2007 and halted the government from naming any more. It includes designations made under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
The order aims to expand offshore drilling, but questions remain about how that might pertain to the Great Lakes, which have been off-limits to oil & gas drilling since 2005. Michigan banned drilling in its Great Lakes waters in 2002.
The Thunder Bay sanctuary and preserve in Lake Huron was designated in 2000 and expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles in 2014. The sanctuary is a destination which draws shipwreck divers and tourists to Alpena. It’s the only National Marine Sanctuary in the Great Lakes or fresh water.
The boundary, which extends from Cheboygan to Alcona counties and east to the mid-lake border, protects from disturbance several hundred known and suspected shipwrecks in Lake Huron. The Alpena headquarters features a shipwreck museum and provides a staging area for scientists and researchers studying ecology, natural resources and maritime archaeology.
Thunder Bay researchers are busy this summer conducting an extensive review of the expanded area for undiscovered shipwrecks.
Environmental groups called the federal review a continuation of Trump’s “war on the Great Lakes.”
Trump’s White House has taken several actions seen as hostile to the ecology and economy of Great Lakes states, most notably eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal and blocking the release of a plan to stop Asian carp in the Illinois Waterway.
“The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron had broad Michigan public stakeholder and bipartisan support when it was expanded in 2014,” said Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “Scaling back the Thunder Bay Sanctuary is misguided and counterproductive.”