In October 2015, NOAA announced its intent to designate a new national marine sanctuary to help conserve nationally-significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources in Wisconsin. Following a public comment period last year, NOAA has developed a detailed analysis and management plan for a proposed national marine sanctuary in the waters of Lake Michigan adjacent to Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Ozaukee counties. The public now has an opportunity to review the proposal and provide input.
The proposed 1,075-square-mile Wisconsin–Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary would protect 37 shipwrecks and related underwater cultural resources that possess exceptional historic, archaeological, and recreational value. The sanctuary would also enhance heritage tourism within the many coastal communities that have embraced their centuries-long maritime relationship with Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and the nation
Maps and Alternatives
Alternative A (NOAA's preferred alternative)
Boundary: 1,075 square miles
Known Shipwrecks: 37
Potential Shipwrecks: 80
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the history of the process for designating a sanctuary in Wisconsin, and how has NOAA engaged the state and public?
In June 2014 in response to ongoing widespread interest from the public, NOAA launched a new, community-based sanctuary nomination process for communities across the nation to nominate their most treasured places in our marine and Great Lakes waters for consideration as national marine sanctuaries.
In December 2014, the state of Wisconsin submitted to NOAA a sanctuary nomination citing the need to protect, conserve, and enhance public access to a nationally-significant collection of shipwrecks in an 875 square-mile area of Lake Michigan. The nomination also noted opportunities to foster education and research partnerships, increase tourism, and enhance economic development.
Principal cities involved in supporting the sanctuary nomination included Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, and Mequon. The nomination was endorsed by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels. This included elected officials, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and educational groups.
In October 2015, NOAA published a Notice of Intent to prepare a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and carry out a public scoping process to consider designating the area as a national marine sanctuary. The public scoping period ended on January 15, 2016. NOAA held three public meetings and received both written and verbal comments on the concept of designating a sanctuary. NOAA received approximately 135 comments during that scoping period, the majority of which were strongly supportive of the concept of national marine sanctuary designation.
On January 9, 2017, based on public comments received during the scoping period and in consultation with the State of Wisconsin, NOAA published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Draft Management Plan, and Proposed Rule. Together, these documents constitute a proposal by NOAA to designate a 1,075-square-mile Wisconsin–Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary would protect 37 shipwrecks and related underwater cultural resources that possess exceptional historic, archaeological, and recreational value. The increased area reflected the public scoping comments and updated shipwreck location information from the State of Wisconsin.
NOAA opened a 81-day period for public comments on the three detailed proposal documents. This comment period ended on March 31, 2017. NOAA received approximately 650 written comments on the sanctuary proposal. NOAA held four public meetings during the week of March 13 in Algoma, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington. Approximately 400 people attended the meetings, with 75 people providing verbal comments.
What is happening now and what are the next steps in the designation process?
NOAA staff are currently analyzing public comments and preparing responses, which would appear in the Federal Register should the sanctuary be designated. During the public comment period many people supported the proposed sanctuary, citing the tourism, economic, education, and shipwreck protection benefits. Others expressed concern about the impact to commercial shipping operations, dredging in the ports, and riparian rights along the beach. The opportunity for the public to comment on this action (the proposed Wisconsin Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary) is closed now that NOAA has completed the scoping and detailed proposal review periods.
In consultation with the State of Wisconsin and based on the public comments received from the general public, industry, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders, NOAA will now prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement, Final Management Plan and Final Rule. Before the designation would become effective, the Governor has 30 days to review the documents. The proposed sanctuary lies totally within State waters. In such a case, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act states that if the Governor certifies to the Secretary of Commerce that the designation or any of its terms are unacceptable, then the designation or the unacceptable term will not take effect for the sanctuary. Congress also has 45 days of Congressional session to review the documents.
If designated, how would NOAA engage the state and the public in sanctuary management?
If the sanctuary is designated, the sanctuary would be co-managed by NOAA and the State of Wisconsin, and a Memorandum of Agreement would be established. NOAA will also establish a sanctuary advisory council, made up of members from the public with meetings open to the public to gather input and advice on sanctuary management. National marine sanctuary advisory councils are community-based advisory groups established to provide advice and recommendations to the superintendent on issues including management, science, service, and stewardship.
Additionally, NOAA, in collaboration with the state, would conduct regular sanctuary management plan reviews, during which time the public has the opportunity to provide input. The periodic management plan reviews allow national marine sanctuaries the opportunity to look at how the area is changing and adaptively manage in collaboration with our state, local, and federal partners, and engage the public in the decision making process.
Why is the Ordinary High Water (OHWM) mark being considered as the sanctuary's landward boundary?
The proposed landward boundary of the sanctuary is the state-designated OHWM. This boundary was chosen because it is a current, known regulatory boundary. Under State of Wisconsin regulation, the OHWM is defined as "The point on the bank or shore up to which the water, by its presence, wave action or flow, leaves a distinct mark on the shore or bank." The state's authority over shipwrecks extends to the OHWM, and NOAA's proposal for the national marine sanctuary boundary is consistent with the state's authority.
The proposal uses this consistent boundary so that NOAA and the State could co-manage all Wisconsin shipwrecks within the boundary. A single boundary also eliminates confusion that might arise if there were two separate boundaries. Using the water's edge for a boundary, as suggested, would be problematic because it fluctuates widely and would essentially create a "moving" sanctuary boundary where, cultural resources were variously within or beyond the sanctuary boundary depending on lake levels at a given time.
Would sanctuary designation impact riparian rights and state sovereignty?
NOAA's proposal to designate a national marine sanctuary in Wisconsin would not change riparian rights as defined by the State of Wisconsin, nor would it change state law regarding public access to the area in which shoreline property owners have exclusive access. The proposal recognizes the state's sovereignty over its waters and submerged lands.
Under Wisconsin law, riparian owners have the exclusive right to use the exposed bed of the lake in front of their property when the water level is low. That right extends to the OHWM. The State of Wisconsin holds the beds of all lakes, ponds, and navigable rivers beyond the ordinary high-water mark in public trust, and the public has the right to use the water for activities like fishing.
Will the designation impact commercial shipping activities?
NOAA is committed to ensuring that the creation of the Wisconsin - Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary would support businesses and organizations that use the lake and surrounding ports. As described in the DEIS (page 88), NOAA recognizes that commercial shipping on the Great Lakes is an important activity that supports the nation's economy. The proposed sanctuary is not expected to have adverse impacts to commercial shipping. NOAA's proposal did not include the commercial ports and marinas of Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington in the sanctuary boundary. NOAA excluded these areas based on scoping comments by the Lake Carriers' Association, members of the shipping community, and elected officials. They requested the ports not be included within the boundary to avoid any restriction or prohibition on port operations "critical to the local, regional, and national economies", including dredging (page 35 of the DEIS).
In addition, with the passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Bill of 2015, the Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations prohibiting ballast water exchange in national marine sanctuaries would not apply to this proposed sanctuary. Ballast operations would continue as currently carried out.
In response to public comments on the detailed proposal regarding excluding the federal navigation channels, NOAA is evaluating this possible adjustment to the boundary.
Will the sanctuary impact commercial or recreational fishing?
The proposed national marine sanctuary designation does not include restrictions on commercial or recreational fishing. The scope of the proposed sanctuary regulations are narrowly focused on maritime heritage resources. As indicated in the DEIS (page 87), the proposed action is not introducing regulations specific to commercial fishing.
What are the anticipated costs associated with the sanctuary?
In the Draft Management Plan (DMP) for the proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan sanctuary, (see sanctuaries.noaa.gov/wisconsin/wisconsin-proposed-deis-dmp.pdf), NOAA developed estimates for potential annual operating budgets for activities that can be funded at varying levels. We array these potential activities across five funding levels: $250,000, $500,000, $600,000, $750,000 and $900,000. The table on page 121 of the DMP describes the activities each budget level may support. The actual budget level to operate the proposed sanctuary each year would be contingent on several factors, including the overall operation budget for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and spending priorities determined by that office and NOAA. In addition, the budget may also include "construction" funds to support infrastructure capital and maintenance. These would be contingent on factors similar to the operational funds.
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About the Nomination
Wisconsin-Lake Michigan was nominated as a national marine sanctuary through the NOAA’s Sanctuary Nomination Process with broad community and bipartisan support.
In December 2014, the state of Wisconsin submitted the sanctuary nomination, citing the need to protect, conserve, and enhance public access to this nationally-significant collection of shipwrecks. The nomination also notes opportunities to foster education and research partnerships, increase tourism, and enhance economic development.
The nomination is endorsed by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels. This includes elected officials, businesses, museums, and environmental, recreational, conservation, tourism, and educational groups.
Principal cities involved in supporting the sanctuary nomination include Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Two Rivers, and Mequon.
NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary System
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.