NERR Designation Process Moving Forward

An environmental impact statement along with a management plan are in the process of being drafted for a new National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) planned in the Bay of Green Bay.

As currently planned, the reserve’s natural areas include 37,726 acres – 10,630 acres of land/wetland and 27,096 acres of open water – with portions in Sturgeon Bay, Peshtigo and the Lower Bay of Green Bay.

The portion in the Sturgeon Bay area includes close to 700 acres located south of state Highway 42/57 on both sides of the shipping channel, with property owned by Crossroads at Big Creek, the Door County Land Trust, the Sturgeon Bay School District and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Door County Land Trust property accounts for 425 acres designated for inclusion in the NERR, the third largest land-holding partner for the entire reserve. 

A joint public meeting was held Tuesday in Green Bay by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, which is leading the state’s efforts toward NERR designation, to receive comments on issues related to the development of a draft environmental impact statement. 

NOAA’s Bridget Faust-Accola noted that upon the environmental impact statement being completed, the nominated NERR natural areas could be adopted or boundary alternatives could be implemented to add or subtract acres, based on the comments received.

NOAA will continue to take public comments online and via mail through April 19.

The NERR designation timeline calls for the environmental impact statement and management plan to be finalized by the end of this year. 

The management plan would subsequently have to be updated every five years following the NERR’s designation. The Bay of Green Bay’s planned designation as a NERR is scheduled for the spring of 2025.

The Bay of Green Bay region would be established as the 31st NERR in the nation. The reserves already in existence were established through the Coastal Management Zone Act and are partnerships between NOAA and coastal states. The financial arrangement calls for a NERR to be funded 70% by the federal government and 30% by the state it is in.

Visitor Center Sought

Following the NERR’s designation, a visitor center would be established for the reserve. The City of Sturgeon Bay is among the municipalities trying to attract the center, which included last year finalizing a 28-page prospectus that included a list of six possible sites for the visitor center. Four of those are city-owned properties – the West Waterfront, Sunset Park, water frontage near the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club and the Sawyer Park boat-launch area – and two privately owned parcels at 253 N. 1st Ave. and on the corner of Oregon Street and South 1st Avenue adjacent to Graham Park.

UW-Green Bay’s director of freshwater strategy, Emily Tyner, who has been involved in the NERR designation process, was also on hand at Crossroads at Big Creek for a Fish Tales series lecture about the Bay of Green Bay NERR on March 14 when she was asked about the visitor center.

Unlike designating the NERR natural areas, which are spelled out in criteria under the direction of NOAA, Tyner said determining where the visitor center should go doesn’t have “the same heavy-handedness from the federal government.”

“They don’t set the standard for how you do that,” she said. “It will ultimately be a university decision with criteria. That criteria hasn’t been set yet. The university will decide what that’s going to look like, what that process will look like.”