A group of 14 local citizens have gathered together to investigate the option of making the waters of the Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands a National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
As part of their exploration, the group hosted an informational meeting at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center on Monday evening. The discussion was led by two guest speakers currently connected to NOAA's efforts to preserve and protect 13 oceanic NMS and one Great Lake sanctuary "with special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, archaeological or aesthetic qualities of national significance."
According to speaker Ellen Brody, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for NOAA's Office of NMS, there are numerous benefits becoming a NMS. If designated, NOAA would bring financial and technical resources to the Lake Superior NMS for education, research and community engagement.
Brody suggested that a Lake
Superior NMS designation could be as beneficial to the region as the Thunder Bay NMS designation was to Alpena, Michigan.
"There is no doubt that in Alpena, Michigan it has changed how the community thinks about itself," Brody said. "From an industrial community where the industries were shutting down, to a place where there is more tourism. A place where kids grow up thinking they have a future in Alpena, Mich."
A Lake Superior NMS designation would not affect treaty rights, or require local or state funds or taxes to operate.
"All Great Lakes waters are state waters... they remain state waters," Brody said. "Also, in the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the governor of the state has significant authority when it comes to giving a thumbs up or thumbs down for what NOAA is proposing."
A change to NOAA's nomination process in 2014 now includes nominations from public, state and federal agencies and tribes, which is why a NMS is being considered in the Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands region for the first time.
"Communities are part of sanctuaries, so when we go into an area we want to work with communities fundamentally, and we want to know that there is an interest in partnering with NOAA," said Brody.
Written and anonymous questions from the audience covered a wide variety of topics, including whether or not a CAFO in the region would affect NMS designation and if the NMS designation could prevent CAFO operations if it had an effect on the site. Brody and Carol Bernthal, Superintendent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, agree that a CAFO in the region should not prevent NMS designation.
"I hope the CAFO would not impact the qualities of the area that you're looking at to the extent that it doesn't meet the national standard," Bernthal said.
However, a Lake Superior NMS designation has the potential to regulate operations that negatively affect the sanctuary.
"Regulations do address impacts to sanctuary resources from outside the sanctuary. If you can demonstrate that damage is occurring from an activity — whether it's terrestrial or in the waters outside of the sanctuary, theoretically we can address that in some capacity," Brody explained. "In our decades of managing sanctuaries, we are better tested at the activities that are outside of the boundary but in the water. For example oil and gas development."
Brody concluded that it can "be difficult to make the case that a particular activity is harming a sanctuary resource."
The process for becoming a fully designated NMS is two-fold and can take months or years to complete. First, the area must be nominated and meet specific criteria as established by NOAA. If the nomination is successful, the Lake Superior NMS would be added to the inventory list and does not guarantee designation. In order for a site to be officially designated an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and management plan must be completed and approved.
"The community is responsible for building the nomination. Which takes time, education and establishing a vision," Brody explained.
Although a specific nomination entity has not been identified in this community, planning committee members looking into NMS nomination include Karin Kozie, Ellen Kwiatkowski, Cathy Techtman, Joan Elias, Sandy Brue, Stephanie Julian, Beth Wrege, Mike Friis, Rose Haveri, Bob Mackreth, Devon Brock-Montgomery, Mark Peterson, Ellen Peterson and Kellie Pederson.
According to Pederson, the committee is currently working towards gathering 100 letters of support from "key agencies" in the area before moving forward in the nomination process.
"We're in the education phase. We need to see if this is a good option for our community," Pederson said.