ALPENA - The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary held a public comment period on Tuesday before its sanctuary advisory council meeting to give the community an opportunity to voice input on the sanctuary boundary expansion and the prepared environmental impact statement.
The expansion would increase the sanctuary's protected area from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles and encompass over 45 additional discovered shipwrecks along with potential shipwrecks. Many local residents showed full support for expansion, including Jerome Meek.
"I am amazed by the number of ships on the bottom of the lake," Meek said. "There's history laying on the bottom. I think we should go forward and save all that history."
Another supporter of boundary expansion was Chuck Wiesen, an advisory council member and president of the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
"For us to move forward is paramount," Wiesen said. "Those counties north and south can become good partners officially, as they already are unofficially. This is not only the correct thing to do for today, it's the correct thing to do for tomorrow."
There were a few concerns voiced about portions of the environmental impact regulations from Interlake Steamship Assistant Operations Manager Jayson Toth, and Robert Budnick, Lafarge area environmental and public affairs manager, about a Coast Guard regulation in the statement prohibiting the discharge and ontake of ballast water within marine sanctuaries.
Freighters on the Great Lakes have to take in ballast water or discharge it to help balance the ship while it is loading or unloading. Ballast water also is used to stabilize ships with large amounts of cargo out in open water in rough conditions to help keep the freighters afloat, so this is a safety issue as far as freighters are concerned.
"We support the sanctuary and definitely support its goals," Toth said. "We are working hard with the sanctuary on this issue. This is the only sanctuary that exists for mainly historical type of reasons. As you create a marine sanctuary, it brings into effect multiple environmental rules and triggers to protect the environment."
Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said the sanctuary wants to keep the discussion going on the ballast issue. He also said keeping shipping moving was one of the only concerns voiced about the boundary expansion.
According to Budnik, the main reason the ballast issue is included in the Coast Guard regulation is to limit the spread of invasive species from other areas, but this isn't as big of a concern for ships within the Great Lakes.
"This is mostly an ocean regulation," Budnik said. "There are many people working together to amend the Coast Guard regulations. Other than the ballast issue, we fully support the expansion. This is kind of an unintended consequence."
The words most associated with the concerns about ballast water seem to be "unintended consequences," because it is a Coast Guard regulation, and will need to be handled carefully. As far as reaching an agreement about the ballast water regulation, all of the parties believe there will be a favorable resolution.
"It looks good," Toth said. "We still support expansion. It helps the local historical aspect. Each one of our vessels carry as much as seven trains, so it really highlights what a green industry we are.
"They've been great here at the sanctuary and everyone is working hard to work around the issue," Toth said. "I think things will work out."
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.