Lee Luft was pleased with the “phenomenal turnout” on a snowy Monday, March 13, for a presentation held at Knudson Hall in Algoma on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) plan to designate the waters off certain parts of Lake Michigan as a national marine sanctuary.
Luft, a Kewaunee County supervisor, has been leading the charge to include Kewaunee County in the designation. NOAA has two options it is considering – the original plan came from the state of Wisconsin in 2014, which was to designate the waters off of Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties, a 1,075 square mile area that would protect 37 known shipwrecks and a potential of 80 wrecks; alternative B includes Kewaunee County, which would bring the sanctuary up to 1,270 square miles and 38 known shipwrecks and the potential of 95.
Russ Green, NOAA’s Sheboygan-based regional coordinator, said some very powerful arguments have been made for the creation of what would be only the second national marine sanctuary on the Great Lakes. After the public review, which ends on March 31, a final proposal will be made and by next fall it should be forwarded for designation status.
State archaelogist John Broihahn also spoke about being involved in the process from the beginning and how the designation could help train the next generation of Great Lakes leaders and scientists, as well as reminding everyone about the critical role Lake Michigan plays in the state and national economy.
The floor was then opened to the public. Speakers included elected officials, scuba divers, conservationists, three representatives of the Door County Maritime Museum (all of whom advocated eventually including Door County in the designation because it probably has more shipwrecks than the other four counties combined), and an Algoma middle school student who looks forward to exploring shipwrecks.
More than one speaker said it seemed odd that Door County is not being included in the designation, but Green pointed out that when the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary at Alpena, Mich., was first designated in 2000, it encompassed 448 square miles and today it is 4,300 square miles, so Door County’s eventual inclusion seems assured if the designation is granted.
“We need this, it just makes sense for Kewaunee County to be included,” said Jennifer Schneider, Kewaunee County tourism coordinator/public information officer. “I believe the number of people who helped pack Knudson Hall, as well as the beautiful art that was on display, greatly helped show our appreciation for Lake Michigan and that we really mean it when we say we want to be a part of the proposed Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary.”
The public has until March 31 to submit comments to NOAA, either online or by mail. To read more on how to share your thoughts, visit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov/wisconsin. Kewaunee County has more information on their “National Marine Sanctuary” web page: co.kewaunee.wi.gov.