Comment period on marine sanctuaries extended

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Department of Commerce has extended the comment period on an executive order from President Donald Trump calling for a review of national marine sanctuaries designated in the last 10 years.

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

Some lawmakers from Michigan are concerned that the review could result in the elimination or reduction in size of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan, which preserves 110 sunken vessels in an area of Lake Huron known as “Shipwreck Alley.”

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Rep. Salud Carbajal of California led a recent letter asking Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to extend public comment period from 30 days to 90 days.

The comments were set to close July 26, but the period has been extended 15 days and will now end Aug. 14.

“Strong public support and engagement from Northern Michigan residents was key to Thunder Bay’s designation and expansion, and today the sanctuary is a critical tourism destination and an integral part of Michigan’s cultural landscape,” said Peters, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

“This extension provides a brief but important opportunity for Michigan residents to highlight the role Thunder Bay plays as an economic lifeline to coastal communities in Michigan.”

This week, a bipartisan group from the Michigan delegation wrote to Ross, urging the administration to maintain the sanctuary’s existing boundaries and stressing its importance to tourism and the regional economy.

“Modifying the expanded boundaries of the Thunder Bay Sanctuary will only reduce the area benefiting from the amazing resources and history that draw thousands of visitors to the region every year,” the lawmakers wrote.

“The decision to expand the Sanctuary in 2014 came after an extensive process that ensured thorough and transparent input from our constituents and all stakeholders. Michigan depends on its marine sanctuary to support the rural and coastal communities of northeast Michigan and preserve this unique area and cultural artifacts for future generations.”

While the executive order said that the potential for oil and mineral production should be considered in reviewing marine sanctuaries, the Michigan delegation noted that “is not relevant to Thunder Bay.”

That’s because there’s a federal ban on federal or state permits for new offshore drilling in or under the Great Lakes, and Michigan state law has banned oil and gas drilling in the freshwater lakes since 2002.

The letter was led by Peters and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; as well as Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, also signed it.

Comments on the executive order may be submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration electronically through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at (search the docket for NOAA-NOS-2017-0066) or by mail to E.O. 13795 Review, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring Metro Campus Building 4 (SSMC4), Eleventh Floor, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.