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Speer: Sanctuary meets and exceeds expectations

May 9, 2008
Bill Speer
It’s interesting how the years have changed people’s minds in Northeast Michigan regarding the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Back in 2000 those of us who worked hard at attracting the sanctuary to the community celebrated the fact of its opening. Truth be told, many of us were in awe of that event as we wondered many times if the concept ever would become reality.

We never had doubt as to whether the sanctuary would be a good thing for the community. We never had reservations as to whether the sanctuary would stimulate the economy and draw national attention to the natural resources and beauty of the region.

What we did wonder about were the countless meetings that time after time half-truths and innuendos were stated. Despite information to the contrary that constantly was shared with the public, the persistent falsehoods dogged the project like a bee to honey.

Certainly the sanctuary experience makes for a classic textbook lesson about people’s view of change. Change is a concept that doesn’t come easy and when area residents listened to the naysayers and their untruths as to what might happen to Thunder Bay with a sanctuary within it, I understand the concerns. Who would what to jeopardize one of the jewels of our community if you thought sanctuary staff would police Thunder Bay boat traffic with Nazi-like efficiency and compassion?

Thankfully all that is in the past. Instead, what sanctuary officials have succeeded in doing instead is winning over the confidence of most everyone in the community. Actions speak louder than words and the sanctuary staff understand that better than most. They have worked hard to show residents that life in Thunder Bay with the sanctuary can be a very good thing, with lots of side benefits for the community.

So good, in fact, that Sen. Carl Levin testified this week to legislation he introduced last year that would expand the sanctuary’s boundaries. Under Levin’s legislation, the sanctuary would expand from 448 square miles of water and 115 miles of shoreline, to 3,722 square miles and 226 miles of shoreline in Alpena, Alcona and Presque Isle counties.

And the best part of that expansion is the fact that every one of those miles was supported by the government entities whose shoreline is included in the proposal. Such support years ago was hoped for, but never fully materialized.

“Thunder Bay is an underwater museum of maritime history,” said Levin, who was a strong supporter of Thunder Bay’s original designation as a marine sanctuary. “It is one of the few places where researchers and divers can go to explore well-preserved shipwrecks and witness this history first-hand. We need to do everything we can to preserve the rich past of the Great Lakes, and by expanding the boundary of Thunder Bay sanctuary, we can ensure that these treasures will be available for generations.”

Levin’s testimony must have been persuasive, as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has included the Thunder Bay boundary designation in a session Thursday that will determine whether to advance the legislation forward in the legislative process.

I have been proud, but not surprised, of all the sanctuary has achieved in Alpena in such a short time. Today it is easy for residents to see and understand the positive impact such a facility can have for the community.

Last summer, for instance, when I hosted newspaper publishers from across Michigan at the sanctuary’s heritage center they were in awe of the facility and the community. I personally know of two family outings later of those publishers who returned to Alpena with their families.

I certainly hope ultimately the legislative process approves the boundary expansion. Not only would it be a great day for sanctuary officials, but also it would be the culmination of a dream many of us have had for a long, long time.



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