10.23.17

Detroit Free Press: Stabenow and Peters: Trump proposed rollback threatens Thunder Bay, Great Lakes history

In the foggy, early morning hours of Oct. 20, 1854, the cargo schooner Defiance was sailing along Michigan’s northeastern coast en route to Buffalo from Chicago to deliver more than 11,500 bushels of grain. At the same time, the John J. Audubon, a brig carrying over 400 bars of railroad iron, was speeding north on its way to the Chicago railyards.

These two vessels marked an era of commerce and shipping on the Great Lakes riddled with danger. Time was of the essence to ship captains and merchants alike, pressing for speed above all else -- including safety. Just shortly after 1 a.m. on that foggy October night, the Defiance and the Audubon collided off the coast of Presque Isle, sinking within minutes.

These ships are just two of more than 200 shipwrecks that rest within the boundaries of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron, off the coast of Alpena. Established in 2000, the sanctuary protects these relics of our region’s maritime history and preserves 4,300 square miles of Lake Huron’s distinct underwater landscape. The sanctuary’s "Shipwreck Alley" and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center highlight the central role the Great Lakes have played in Michigan’s unique economic and cultural history.

But right now, Thunder Bay’s expansion -- and the critical research and tourism it supports -- is at risk.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is an economic driver and integral part of our state's tourism industry. It brings nearly 100,000 annual visitors to Northeast Michigan, generates over $100 million in economic activity and supports over 1,700 jobs in the region.

Visitors come from all over to view shipwrecks like the Defiance, Audubon and others that reside beneath these clear, blue waters on scuba dives or glass bottom boat tours. Thunder Bay and marine sanctuaries like it were created not to keep to people out of these pristine areas, but for all Americans to access and enjoy for generations to come.

In addition to supporting Michigan’s tourism industry, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conduct critical research at Thunder Bay that will help preserve our Great Lakes for future generations. Thunder Bay’s recent tenfold expansion -- from 448 to 4,300 square miles -- now protects 93 additional known wrecks and an estimated 100 more that have yet to be discovered.

The complicated underwater geography at Thunder Bay makes it difficult to use traditional survey and site assessment tools such as sonar and marine magnetometers.

To uncover the missing shipwrecks, NOAA is developing innovative methods to locate and rapidly assess cultural sites in shallow and deep water with cutting-edge equipment. These efforts can later be applied to exploring similarly complex marine environments across the globe.

From mapping deep water shipwrecks to studying complex underwater landscapes, the research being done at Thunder Bay will develop tools and bolster exploration across the Great Lakes and in maritime ecosystems around the world.

We were extremely alarmed when earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order seeking to roll back or eliminate protections in eleven marine sanctuaries and monuments across the country that were created or expanded over the past decade -- including Thunder Bay.

We were particularly concerned that the executive order only gave Michigan residents 30 days to offer public comments about change that would dramatically impact our state’s tourism industry. Strong public support from Michiganders drove Thunder Bay's 2014 expansion, and we were proud to help lead the effort to successfully extend the public comment period by an additional 20 days and give Michiganders more time to share their input.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is expected to complete its review of these potential rollbacks and eliminations, and submit their report to the White House by October 25th. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has proven itself not only as a Northern Michigan treasure, but an economic and cultural draw for our state and our entire country.

The Trump administration must recognize that shrinking Thunder Bay's borders will jeopardize the sanctuary’s research, overrule public support, and eliminate protections for undiscovered shipwrecks and icons of our cultural heritage that could never be explored if this expansion is reversed.

We urge the Trump administration to side with Michigan residents by continuing Thunder Bay’s important protections for our Great Lakes.

Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate.


By:  US Senators Gary Peters & Debbie Stabenow
Source: Detroit Free Press