On January 6, 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released draft plans for the proposed National Marine Sanctuary for the mid-Lake region of the Lake Michigan from Two Rivers to Mequon. The public will be able to weigh in on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the draft Management Plan for the sanctuary.
These two documents are the next step in the federal designation process to being officially recognized as a National Sanctuary. A number of alternative locations have been identified as part of the Management Plan development. NOAA’s continued preferred alternative is the 1,075 square mile sanctuary in Lake Michigan that would protect 37 known historic shipwrecks and about 80 potential shipwrecks and other potential historic maritime vessels. Fifteen of the known historic shipwrecks are preserved virtually intact and contains two of the oldest know shipwrecks dating to the 1830’s. Spanning the 1800s through the early 20th century, shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary represent diverse vessel types that played critical roles in evolving the Great Lakes from a maritime frontier into the nation’s busiest waterway.
NOAA’s preferred regulatory approach would adopt regulations similar to those used in other sanctuaries to protect underwater cultural resources, with an additional regulation that prohibits grappling and anchoring on shipwreck sites. The proposed sanctuary would be managed by NOAA and the State of Wisconsin.
What does this sanctuary mean for the local economy? Locally, Sheboygan Area Tourism is developing a Sea to Space plan for the future to tie into the National Marine Sanctuary. Sea to Space focuses on the development of a community culture engaged in innovation through STEAM education and fresh water experiences. It is the driver for the vision of how the Sheboygan community fits into the proposed sanctuary in relation to the other communities involved in the project. One may ask themselves, why are we so interested? The Sea to Space project provides a solid foundation for addressing several community priorities including workforce development, enhancement of primary and secondary education, inventive progress, education, innovation tourism, economic development and historic preservation. The education opportunities as it relates to the water are endless. Once the area is officially designated, more solid development plans will be released on the proposed plan and where it will be located. Sheboygan Area Tourism and the partners involved with this concept are working behind the scenes now to develop the infrastructure to move the plan forward.
Both of the plans are available at: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/wisconsin/ Residents are encouraged to provide comment on line at Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov to comment on the proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan use the docket number NOAA-NOS-2016-0150. Comments can be submitted by mail to: Russ Green, Regional Coordinator, Proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary, UW- Sheboygan, One University Drive, Sheboygan, WI 53081. All comments must be submitted by March 31, 2017.
There will also be public meetings held within the proposed sanctuary. The Sheboygan public meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at UW-Sheboygan, Main Building, Wombat Room (Room 214).
After the public comment period is complete, NOAA will review the comments it receives and make a final decision on the proposed sanctuary. Should NOAA decide to proceed with sanctuary designation, the agency will develop final documents, including boundaries and guidelines on how the sites will be managed. The proposed sanctuary has been in the works since about 2009. City staff that have worked on this for 8+ years are excited that we have achieved another step in the process and look forward to the great opportunities that await us.