Alpena News: Peters seeks to extend comment period

Sen. Gary Peters and 19 of his colleagues have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce requesting an extension to the public comment period over an executive order by the Trump administration that could impact marine sanctuaries, including the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The executive order mandates the Commerce Department review the designations and expansion of 11 national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments that have taken place since 2007. The study will seek data on community involvement and support of the sanctuaries, cost benefits to the government and if rolling back some of the designations could be beneficial to oil and gas exploration.

Peter said the executive order only allowed a public comment period of 30 days, which isn’t long enough. He seeks a 60 day extension and hopes people who live in communities bordering sanctuaries will make comment supporting them and highlighting the benefits they bring to their communities.

“I would strongly encourage people to make comment as soon as possible,” Peters said. “We don’t know yet if our request for an extension will be approved, but it is a reasonable request, especially since they are seeking to gauge public support.”

Peters said he expects the oil and gas exploration aspect of the analysis would not impact Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary because drilling in the Great Lakes is against federal law. He said that doesn’t mean the executive order couldn’t jeopardize the sanctuary, however, as scaling back the size of some is possible. When the sanctuary was established in 2000 it covered 448 square miles of Lake Huron. In 2014 it was expanded to 4,300 square miles. Peters said if the study determines the cost to maintain the sanctuary or public support is lacking, the expansion could be removed and only the original designation would remain.

Peters said recent data shows Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has provided a significant boost in the economy in Alpena. He said it has brought about $100 million into the region, along with many jobs. Peters said interest in the shipwrecks and other recreational activities also has led to an increase in the number of people from outside the area to choose Northeast Michigan as a vacation destination.

“It really is a magnet for tourism with things like the glass-bottom boat,” he said. “Alpena has become a premier place to scuba dive, snorkel and kayak. It is getting attention all over the world. I know the residents there strongly support it and realize the value their community get from it.”

People can send their comments to the federal register or their representatives no later than July 26 unless the extension is granted. Peters said he is not sure when or if the Commerce Department of will consider and grant the extension.

Source: Alpena News