Executive order creates uncertainty for National Marine Sanctuary on Lakeshore

Local News

Manitowoc’s mayor is concerned about the future of a proposed National Marine Sanctuary after an executive order just signed  by President Trump. That order aimed at offshore drilling, now prevents the U.S. government from naming new marine sanctuaries.

For a decade efforts have been ongoing on the Lakeshore to federally recognize and protect the shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Michigan. Now Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels says all that work has been put on hold.

“We were three quarters of the way to the finish line and all of a sudden there was a hurdle we weren’t expecting,” said Mayor Nickels.

President Trump’s executive order is aimed at opening up more offshore drilling, by stopping the federal government from protecting potential energy sources with a National Marine Sanctuary designation. Something Nickels expected would be announced later this year for 1,000 square miles of Lake Michigan off of Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties.

“The way it’s written right now would affect us, there would be a review, there would be a halt on the process,” said Nickels.

The benefits of the designation are many. The sanctuary is expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of people annually to the Lakeshore.

“You look for things that could boost your local area and this is one that is a win-win for all,” said Jim Van Lanen, who operates the Lighthouse Inn in Two Rivers.

For the Manitowoc Maritime Museum it’s about protecting  the area’s maritime history.

“This area in the mid-lake regions has some of the more significant shipwrecks and we think there could be well over 100 shipwrecks that have national importance,” said Rolf Johnson, the museum’s CEO.

Lakeshore communities are lobbying federal agencies for either an exemption or a quick review to determine likelihood of oil and natural gas deposits here.

“I know a little thing about the bedrock geology under the lake and we really don’t have to worry about things like large petroleum deposits,” said Johnson, who is also a geologist.

A possibility that President Trump says needs to be looked at, but an order that could derail a decade of work.

“One strike of the pen could either eliminate any chance of this or push it back for many, many years,” said Nickels.

The sanctuaries nationwide generate an economic impact of $8 billion annually.

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