Public Comment Sought: Regarding Shipwreck Sanctuary Expansion

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Public comment is being sought (through May 25) regarding NOAA’s proposed expansion of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron from its current 448 square miles to over 4,000 square miles.

The expansion includes waters adjacent to Alcona and Presque Isle counties in the northeast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

I have mixed feelings about this (but only slightly mixed, because in the final analysis, I am against it). The obvious intent (i.e. to preserve shipwrecks and make them available to the public) is great, but this would outlaw the taking of artifacts and put all the costs on the public and I think both would be major mistakes.

Many of the estimated 200 wrecks that would be included in the expansion are of no real historical significance or real archaeological value. Even for the shipwrecks that are important, the wrecks are fast being completely taken over by Zebra mussels. The wrecks and all of the exposed artifacts on them will be entirely covered by mussel shells unless the government spends a great many millions every year removing them. And, the government’s estimate of 200 wrecks could easily be wrong by a factor of ten. There could be thousands of wrecks included in the sanctuary and the costs would rise significantly.

The repeated cycle of growing and removal of the mussels will be extremely destructive to the ships and the artifacts.

This expansion of the sanctuary may sound good theoretically, but it is ill conceived and is really an effort to expand government control of our lives, and NOAA (as prodded by the current administration) will be using your money to do it. Comment and stop it now (public comment is open through this Friday) before it gets support from those who won’t stop to think that this only sounds good, but will ultimately fail because we can’t afford it.

No public funds are allotted as part of the approval, even though the sanctuary is already managed by federal and state officials and it would greatly increase their obligations and duties (and their power).

The fact that no additional funding is being allotted should serve as a warning that they aren’t telling us everything. If the people pushing this expansion were being forthright, they would tell the truth that additional funds (i.e. tax dollars and/or fees charged divers and boat operators) will absolutely be required. If the Sanctuary’s administrators get involved in protecting the wrecks by cleaning them of Zebra mussels, which they would naturally want to do, I have no doubt the increased costs involved will be in the many millions of dollars every year.

Obviously the expense to tax-payers is a burden they can’t afford. I think allowing private salvage (by sport divers and commercial salvors) would actually do far more to preserve the story of these wrecks.

If you read books like Captain Dan Berg’s “Wreck Valley III” or Pat Klyne’s “The Atocha Odyssey,” you will better understand how sport divers and commercial salvors are effectively saving and sharing the history and archaeology of shipwrecks for everyone by salvaging (i.e. rescuing or saving) artifacts from them.

If you aren’t familiar with Zebra mussels and the extensive damage they do (not just can do), read this article: The River Whisperer: Zebra Mussels; A Destructive Force.

I understand that Governor Rick Snyder (R), various state senators and officials of adjacent cities have written letters of support, as has the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. All of these are well meaning and obviously see local benefit, but I don’t think they have thought it through. Not only will this eventually cost taxpayers all over the United States, but it will ultimately mean the loss of artifacts that could otherwise be saved.

The public comment session ends Friday. Comments can be submitted to Jeff Gray at jeff.gray@noaa.gov or mailed to him at 500 West Fletcher St., Alpena, Mich., 49707.

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