April 1, 2018
Time to Step Up to Protect Thunder Bay Sanctuary
By Howard Learner
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron is the nation’s only freshwater marine sanctuary. It’s popular — attracting tourists and school children interested in Great Lakes maritime history and learning more about “Shipwreck Alley” where more than 100 ships met their tragic fate. It has spurred economic growth in Alpena which hosts the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.
Boat tours running from Alpena and up the shoreline to Mackinac City enable visitors to see preserved shipwrecks and the scenic bays and islands. Adventurous scuba divers can explore many wrecks.
Last year, the Trump Administration’s Department of Commerce announced a “review” directed to cut down the size of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary by 90 percent and potentially open up these Great Lakes waters to oil drilling. This proposal was a bad idea from the start. What are they thinking?
There was no controversy or problem waiting to be solved. Because both federal law and state law prohibit offshore oil drilling in the Great Lakes, that supposed justification for the Commerce Department’s review is puzzling. There’s broad Michigan support and pride for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. People visit and like it.
There is a clear and direct solution in this case: the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (16 U.S.C. 1434 (b)) provides that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder can certify to the secretary of commerce that any proposed changes to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary are “unacceptable.”
It’s time for Snyder to publicly step up and inform Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that his federal agency’s misguided review to reduce the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary by 90 percent and potentially open it to oil drilling is “unacceptable.” It’s time to bring this bad idea to its well-deserved end.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center and 14 Great Lakes groups filed joint comments with the U.S. Department of Commerce urging that it not cut the size of this popular National Marine Sanctuary. Michigan Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and bipartisan Representatives Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Daniel Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Dave Trott and Fred Upton sent a joint letter to Ross stating:
“We write to express our strong opposition to reducing the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary … The expansion of this sanctuary in Lake Huron in 2014, which was the result of a rigorous approval process with extensive public input, is critical to Michigan’s economy and heritage.”
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has helped revitalize local economies in our state. The tourism and recreational opportunities supported by the sanctuary have generated over 1,700 jobs, $100 million in sales, and $39.1 million in personal income to residents, according to a 2005 study.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects a treasure trove of 100 significant shipwrecks that sunk in the treacherous waters and are preserved by the cold fresh water. This National Marine Sanctuary draws visitors to explore “Shipwreck Alley” and offers a window into Great Lakes maritime history.
In 2014, following participatory processes with input from a broad range of stakeholders, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 448 square miles to include 4,300 square miles. That wasn’t controversial.
Protecting the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is good for jobs, good for economic growth and good for the environment as the Michigan Congressional delegation letter explains. The National Marine Sanctuary status helps preserve and protect this historical maritime commerce site for visitors today and for future generations.
Gov. Snyder should end the uncertainty about the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary by publicly informing the Commerce Department that its review and proposed changes are “unacceptable.” Let’s protect the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary for all.