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History of the Sanctuary

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Since the early 1970s, members of the Alpena community had been interested in the potential for development of an underwater park featuring shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay region. Based on studies that document the presence of a large number of shipwrecks in Thunder Bay, and with the support of a local diving club and other civic organizations, Thunder Bay became one of the first State of Michigan underwater preserves in 1981. The preserve, as with other state preserves to follow, was established to protect bottomland and surface water areas containing abandoned property of cultural or recreational value.

During this same period of time, NOAA was developing a Site Evaluation List (SEL) of potential candidates for designation as National Marine Sanctuaries. A group of Alpena residents submitted a proposal to NOAA for a Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In 1983, NOAA placed Thunder Bay, one of five Great Lakes areas, on the final SEL.

In 1991, NOAA elevated Thunder Bay from the SEL to become an active candidate for National Marine Sanctuary designation. In October 1991, NOAA held public scoping meetings in Lansing and Alpena to learn more about the bay's resources, activities, and associated management issues, and to share information with community members about the National Marine Sanctuary Program and the feasibility of a Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Over the next three years, a series of informal working group meetings brought together local, state, federal, and tribal agencies, organizations, and businesses to discuss the scope of a National Marine Sanctuary in Thunder Bay.

In 1994, a Thunder Bay Core Group was formed, whose members represented local, state, federal, and tribal agencies. The Core Group assisted in the development and review of management alternatives, in cooperation with a variety of community interests. By mid-1995, the Core Group had narrowed the management focus of a potential Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to underwater cultural resources (e.g., shipwrecks). This recommended focus was presented and agreed upon at an Alpena community meeting in June 1995. Management of natural resources was rejected by the Core Group in light of the fact that existing federal and state agencies were already managing these resources.

Development of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement / Draft Management Plan (DEIS/DMP) proceeded in accordance with the recommendations of the Core Group. The DEIS/DMP was published in June 1997. Later that year, the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) was established to provide NOAA and the Governor of Michigan with recommendations regarding issues of concern to the local communities.

In November 1997, the City of Alpena passed a referendum opposing the proposed sanctuary (776 voted for the sanctuary and 1,770 voted against it). This was a non-binding referendum that was used to inform the Alpena City Council about local sentiment regarding the sanctuary. At this point, NOAA decided to continue with the designation process for several reasons. First, NOAA still considered Thunder Bay's unique shipwreck collection to be of national historic significance and thus an excellent candidate for National Marine Sanctuary designation. Second, NOAA believed it could successfully address state and local concerns. Governor John Engler also encouraged NOAA to continue working on the sanctuary proposal as long as state and local rights were protected.

Over the next year and a half, NOAA worked with the State of Michigan, the SAC, and other interested parties to develop the Final Environmental Impact Statement / Management Plan, which was published in June 1999. The SAC also provided input on the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding between NOAA and the State, and a Programmatic Agreement between NOAA, the State, and the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. These documents describe the responsibilities of each party in the management of the sanctuary. The FEIS/MP also responds to public comments received on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement / Draft Management Plan (see Appendix A of the FEIS/MP). In particular, NOAA made several changes to the sanctuary regulations in order to make them more similar to State of Michigan laws.

In August 1999, the State of Michigan released its own management plan for the sanctuary, dubbed the "Michigan Option." This plan recommended a state/federal partnership for the management of shipwrecks in Thunder Bay, suggesting that the existing state underwater preserve and new national marine sanctuary be managed jointly by the State and NOAA. NOAA and the State then began discussing ways in which to manage the sanctuary in partnership.

In September 1999, Governor John Enger met with a group of local community and business leaders to discuss the sanctuary designation and its potential effects on the Alpena area. Governor Engler subsequently requested a meeting with Secretary of Commerce William Daley to discuss the proposed sanctuary (the Department of Commerce oversees NOAA). On October 27, 1999, Governor Engler met with Secretary Daley in Washington, D.C. The two agreed to work together to try to reach an agreement on the terms of sanctuary designation by the end of the year.

After the meeting, Secretary Daley said, "The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary would be a positive step for preserving an important chapter in America's maritime history. However, the sanctuary will only succeed with the support of the state and the local community. I am confident that by the end of the year we can finally agree on a partnership to manage this national marine sanctuary."

The meeting between Governor Engler and Secretary Daley was followed by discussions between NOAA and the State of Michigan on topics ranging from the sanctuary name and boundary to funding and staffing arrangements. In June 2000, NOAA and the State reached agreement on the terms of sanctuary designation, including establishment of the name, "Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary ."

On June 22, 2000, NOAA published the final Federal Regulations which explain all of the rules pertaining to sanctuary use.

On October 7, 2000, the thirteenth national marine sanctuary was designated as the first Great Lakes marine sanctuary and the second sanctuary devoted to the preservation of cultural resources. This will be the first sanctuary with a joint management team including both a state and NOAA.



Alpena residents expressed interest in the creation of a Thunder Bay "underwater park" focusing on shipwrecks.


The State of Michigan designated the Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve.


NOAA placed Thunder Bay on the Site Evaluation List.


Discussions began with Alpena residents, area divers, State agencies, and researchers regarding designation of Thunder Bay as a NMS. NOAA activated Thunder Bay as a NMS candidate.


NOAA established the Thunder Bay Core Group, representing local, state, federal, and tribal organizations.


The Core Group developed management alternatives for the Proposed Thunder Bay NMS and recommended that the sanctuary focus only on underwater cultural resources.

June 1997

NOAA published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Draft Management Plan (DEIS/DMP) and held three informational open houses.

August 1997

NOAA established the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC), which provided 25 recommendations on the sanctuary to NOAA and the Governor of Michigan.

Sept. 1997

NOAA held three public hearings.

Nov. 1997

Public comment period for the DEIS/DMP ended. City of Alpena passed a referendum opposing the proposed sanctuary.

Summer 1998

The SAC provided feedback to NOAA on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Programmatic Agreement.

June 1999

NOAA published the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Management Plan (FEIS/MP).

October 1999

Governor John Engler met with Secretary of Commerce William Daley to discuss the sanctuary proposal.

Winter 1999-2000

NOAA and the State engage in negotiations concerning management of the sanctuary.

June 2000

NOAA and the State reach agreement on the terms of sanctuary designation. NOAA publishes final sanctuary regulations.

October 7 2000

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Designated.

Sanctuary Designation


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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