Trump order could affect Lake Huron marine sanctuary

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is raising concerns about an executive order from President Donald Trump calling for the review of all National Marine Sanctuaries designated in the last 10 years, which he says could lead to the elimination or reduction in size of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan.

The review is part of Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy executive order that would potentially open marine sanctuaries and monuments designated under the previous two administrations to oil and gas exploration.

Peters and Rep. Salud Carbajal of California led 18 Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate and House in writing Tuesday to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, asking him to extend public comment period from 30 days to 90 days on the April 28 executive order.

In the letter, Peters and Carbajal stressed that the marine sanctuaries and monuments generate an estimated $8 billion and support more than 70,000 jobs in coastal communities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We are concerned that a recently issued Federal Register Notice regarding your review of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments designated or expanded since April 28, 2007, provides very little opportunity for public engagement,” they wrote.

“Protecting and preserving these treasured resources drives the local economies in many of these communities, and residents should have sufficient time to provide input and voice concerns about possible changes resulting from this review.”

The Thunder Bay sanctuary preserves dozens of sunken vessels in an area of northwestern Lake Huron once known as “Shipwreck Alley.”

In 2014, the Thunder Bay sanctuary received approval to expand its size nearly tenfold to 4,300 square miles to include the waters off Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle in the northeastern Lower Peninsula and to the maritime border with Canada, doubling the number of estimated shipwrecks to roughly 200.

National marine sanctuaries are intended to protect natural and cultural features underwater, while still allowing people to access and use marine areas. Some activities are typically prohibited in protected areas, such as dredging, drilling and attempting to alter or recover underwater resources or artifacts.

The other monuments and sanctuaries that would potentially be affected by the executive order include Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California, according to the letter.

Other members of the Michigan delegation who signed Peters’ letter are Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.

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