ALPENA - Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary received good news regarding the sanctuary expansion proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office of National Marine Sanctuaries on Friday. The NOAA office published a draft environmental impact statement and a proposed rule to consider expansion of the sanctuary in Lake Huron.
"We've been talking about expansion since 2005," sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said. "It adds extra protection, but it also brings new communities to be a part of the sanctuary. Rogers City, Presque Isle County, Harrisville, Alcona County and Alpena County will be involved and the new boundary would extend all the way out to the international boundary."
The DEIS was prepared by several sanctuary members, Northeast and Great Lakes regional coordinator Ellen Brody and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries program analyst Helene Scalliet. The impact statement provides detailed information on a range of reasons for boundary expansion including the location and regulation of various human uses in that area.
"NOAA wants to increase the sanctuary to 4,300 square miles," Gray said. "This is suspected to protect about 200 shipwrecks."
The current boundary for the sanctuary is 448 square miles that encompasses over 200 vessels claimed by fire, ice, collisions and storms around Thunder Bay. More than 50 shipwrecks have been discovered within the current sanctuary boundaries, and an additional 30 wrecks have been located outside the boundaries. The collection of different style vessel types in the sanctuary help to make the wrecks more impressive and nationally significant.
Several businesses and community members have submitted letters of support to the sanctuary including Rogers City Mayor Beach Hall.
"I am in total support of the expansion," Hall said. "This will be something very good for Presque Isle County. I hope this is the last leg in a long journey."
"I've been a strong supporter of the sanctuary since day one," he said. "I'm delighted we're on the drawing board for the expansion and think it's a great idea."
Several other local supporters include schools, townships, Alpena Community College, both Alpena and Alcona county boards of commissioners, local area chambers of commerce, and many travel associations. Forty-eight national, state, local and economic development support letters have been sent since 2005 when the expansion was first proposed to the Sanctuary Advisory Council.
This round of DEIS publishing begins a 60-day comment period ending Aug. 13, in which the communities involved may submit comments on the boundary expansion.
"If, after we read through the comments, we feel OK to move forward, we will prepare another DEIS with adjustments based on the comments," Gray said. "If everything goes well, we could be expanded by the end of this year."
Comments can be submitted online through www.thunderbay.noaa.gov by following the boundary expansion links to submitting comments. They also may be submitted by mail or email to Russ Green, sanctuary deputy superintendent at 500 West Fletcher St., Alpena MI 49707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be three public comment meetings in July where NOAA is seeking both comments and concerns before the final action is taken on expanding the sanctuary. These public hearings will take place on July 15 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Presque Isle District Library in Rogers City, July 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, and July 17 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Alcona County Library in Harrisville.
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.