Boundary Expansion: NOAA has released the final environmental impact statement.
NOAA has completed the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the boundary expansion. The Environmental Protection Agency will publish a notice to that effect in the Federal Register on August 1, 2014. The FEIS will be available for public review for at least 30 days prior to publication of the Final Rule.
On June 14, 2013, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and a Proposed Rule to consider expansion of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. On May 9, 2014, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries also published an Amended Proposed Rule to consider some changes to the original expansion proposal.
NOAA and the State of Michigan have worked closely with the shipping industry to best understand their concerns and get the information necessary to address the ballasting issue. NOAA also worked closely with USCG and EPA to understand the intent of their respective regulations, and to develop solutions for moving forward collaboratively with the TBNMS expansion.
With this amended proposed NOAA is proposing the following changes to the proposed rule to address the shipping industry’s concerns regarding ballasting:
a) excluding the ports of Rogers City, Presque Isle, and Alpena, MI in the proposed sanctuary boundary, where the majority of ballasting occurs and there are no known nationally significant shipwrecks;
b) clarifying that ballast operations are currently well-managed in the Great Lakes by both USCG and EPA, and as such, will likely have no significant impact on the resources protected by NOAA in the expanded TBNMS; and
c) reiterating that both USCG and EPA provide exceptions from their ballasting regulations when ballasting is conducted for reasons of safety.
The proposed amended rule also addresses comments NOAA received from regional Indian tribes regarding the potential for this expansion to impact treaty fishing rights. After consultation with the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority and member tribes, NOAA is proposing language to clarify that this action would not alter these rights in any way. Specifically, the language:
a) better defines the terms “traditional fishing” and Treaty fishing rights.”
b) makes clear that exercise of treaty fishing rights is not modified, altered, or in any way affected by sanctuary expansion.
In 2000, NOAA designated the 448-square mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is jointly managed by NOAA and the state of Michigan. The sanctuary’s mission is to preserve nationally-significant shipwrecks and other maritime heritage resources through resource protection, education and research. Well-preserved by Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water, these shipwrecks span 150 years of Great Lakes maritime history.