Lake Michigan Marine Sanctuary Sees Support At Public Meeting

Local Leaders, Federal Environmental Officials Favor Added Protection For Shipwrecks

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Plans for a national marine sanctuary in Lake Michigan that would protect nearly 40 shipwrecks got a largely positive response at a meeting Thursday night in Port Washington.

The Wisconsin Historical Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration favor the sanctuary designation for nearly 1,100 square miles of water off the shore of Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties.

Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada said the plan is bringing people together.

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“The fact that Ozaukee County, one of — I think we would all agree — the most conservative counties in the state of Wisconsin and really throughout the nation, and the reality we’re renewing our commitment lets everyone know the Great Lakes are not only a bipartisan issue, but frankly a nonpartisan issue,” Mlada told about 80 attendees.

The Ozaukee County Board has passed a resolution favoring the sanctuary designation.

But a few lakeside property owners are more cautious. John Dickman said he’s concerned about the shoreline boundary of the sanctuary and the potential for sightseers to leave a mess when they come to view the wrecks.

“If you’ve got a cottage, there are certain people who think that’s their property and leave all of their garbage on the beach after they leave,” Dickman said.

NOAA regional coordinator Russ Green said the sanctuary would use state law that protects property owners. He promised to talk with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to clarify the shoreline issue.

Green said other steps have been taken to allow commercial ships to still travel through the sanctuary area.

Proposed cuts to NOAA’s budget in President Donald Trump’s federal spending plan could affect the sanctuary initiative, but agency staff said a final decision on the proposal will be made later this year.

NOAA is accepting comments on the sanctuary proposal through March 31. Earlier this week, NOAA held public meetings in Algoma, Manitowoc and Sheboygan.