Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of the sanctuary designation process in Wisconsin, and how has NOAA engaged the state and public?

In December 2014, the state of Wisconsin submitted to NOAA a sanctuary nominationciting 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, and Two Rivers. 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 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 DEIS, draft management plan, and proposed rule. Together, these documents constituted a proposal by NOAA to designate a 1,075-square-mile sanctuary in Lake Michigan that 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, consultation with the state of Wisconsin, and updated shipwreck location information.

Also on January 9, 2017, NOAA opened a 81-day period for public comments on these proposal documents. NOAA received 566 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.

Based on public comments received on the DEIS, and in consultation with the state of Wisconsin, NOAA in June 2020 published a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and final management plan for the 962-square mile Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary. With this action, NOAA has concluded the public scoping and comment periods for the proposed sanctuary.

What are the next steps in the designation process?

NOAA will now prepare and publish a final rule, which includes sanctuary regulations, definitions, and detailed responses to public comments. (A draft of NOAA's responses to public comments also appears as an appendix in the FEIS.) Upon publication of the final rule, Congress and the governor will have 45 days of continuous congressional session to review the documents. As the proposed sanctuary lies totally within state waters, 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. At the end of this 45-day period, the sanctuary designation would become effective.

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 would 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 sanctuary 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.

Does sanctuary designation impact riparian rights and state sovereignty?

Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary would not change the ownership or control of state lands or waters; that is, no loss of state sovereignty would occur as a result of designation of a national marine sanctuary. The sanctuary designation would not change existing riparian rights of the property owners of Wisconsin, nor would it change state law regarding public access to the area in which shoreline property owners have exclusive access. All existing state laws, regulations, and authorities would remain in effect.

Additionally, after considering public comments about using the ordinary high water mark as the western/shoreline sanctuary boundary, NOAA is proposing to adopt the low water datum (LWD) as that boundary. NOAA is doing so because the LWD is more lakeward than the OHWM, and would move the sanctuary boundary "lower down the beach" than the OHWM, thereby removing much of the beach from NOAA jurisdiction and related riparian rights concerns.

Does the designation impact commercial shipping activities?

NOAA's proposal does not include restrictions to shipping. The proposal excludes the ports, marinas, and harbors of Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington from the sanctuary boundaries to avoid any unintended consequences of sanctuary designation on those operations. In addition, NOAA is proposing to eliminate the federally authorized areas (channels) from the sanctuary.

Does the sanctuary designation 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 underwater cultural resources.

What are the anticipated costs associated with the sanctuary?

In the final management plan for the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA developed estimates for potential annual operating budgets for activities that can be funded at varying levels.

For more information contact

Russ Green
Regional Coordinator