Sturgeon Bay Narrowing Down Possible NERR Sites

The Sturgeon Bay Common Council will consider sites that it could include in a prospectus to lure a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) facility to the city. 

The council had three possible city-owned sites on its agenda Feb. 15, but Mayor David Ward said the maps weren’t accurate and therefore wanted to move the discussion, with the correct maps, to the March 1 meeting. 

The city-owned sites under consideration include one at Sunset Park, another at the Sawyer Park boat launch and one by the yacht club. There may also be some private property that property owners have indicated a willingness to list as possible locations.

The waters of Green Bay form the world’s largest freshwater estuary, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is leading the charge for that body of water to become the 30th NERR in the country. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants the national-reserve designation.

The city is competing with Green Bay and Marinette to become the regional NERR headquarters. Both the Common Council and the Door County Board of Supervisors approved resolutions in 2019 in support of establishing a NERR in Door County.

The city will submit a proposal to UW-Green Bay – the holder of the NERR entitlement that will operate the facility – that details why Sturgeon Bay is a good community for the facility’s location, and the available sites will be part of that prospectus. The city formed a NERR committee in April 2021 to work on its offer.

“What we have to offer is, in my belief, sites we can control or have permission of the private property owner to offer,” Ward said. “All of this is contingent on the university picking Sturgeon Bay for the site. If we don’t get picked, we aren’t giving up any land to anybody.”

A NERR is a protected area established by partnerships between NOAA and coastal states. Although research is NERRs’ primary focus, other benefits include opportunities to reconnect people with the water (education), address pollution challenges (stewardship) and introduce citizen-science-based programs to the region (training).