Impact on Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary still unknown

ALPENA — Legislators say not a lot is known about a report submitted to the White House about possible marine sanctuary rollbacks authorized by President Donald Trump.

“We don’t have any information. We aren’t even sure what the report recommendations are and if they will be made publicly available,” Sen. Gary Peters said.

As far as they know the report from the U.S. Commerce Department needed to be completed and submitted to the White House Wednesday, Friends of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary President Chuck Wiesen said.

The report is to examine an executive order signed by Trump in April. The order called for the possible rollback of marine sanctuary expansions after 2008. This order also could prevent the designation of new sanctuaries. Before the report was submitted there was a public comment period where more than 182,000 people and organizations voiced their opinions of the order.

“If the numbers are correct, 99 percent of the comments have been positive about keeping the sanctuary system as it is today,” Wiesen said.

The possible rollback would impact the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary because the boundaries were expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles in 2014.

“I feel this is vitally important and to maintain the expansion. We’ll be staying real close to the department. It’s hard to speculate what’s in the report. They got a lot of feedback from folks all throughout the community in support of the sanctuary. I’m not happy with the fact it may not be made public,” Peters said.

Wiesen said the sanctuary was designated 17 years ago and it has identified more than 200 shipwrecks within the boundaries.

“They have many thousands of visitors every year. There are thousands and thousands of students every year for field trips. They’re learning about the the Great Lakes and robotics. They are building ROVs. So it has been a very positive experience for Northeast Michigan from the point of view of tourism and education, from students as young as elementary to post grad,” Wiesen said.

He said it’s also a great place for researchers and divers as well.

Peters said there is strong support for the sanctuary.

“It’s worked in powerful ways with tourism. I was pleased with the reaction. The comments, they’re all positive. There might be a couple negatives. We just want people to know what needs to be done. To know how important it is to Michigan’s economy and the community,” Peters said.

Peters said they will keep a close eye on the report if it’s ever made public and what happens as a result.

Wiesen said the Friends group hopes for good government.

“To take guidance from those they govern. Truly. We will be excited to see what happens. I know Sens. Peters and Stabenow are strong supporters for the Thunder Bay and sanctuary system,” Wiesen said.