ALPENA -- The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary took another step toward seeing its boundaries expand, as the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted Thursday to approve a bill authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. to do just that. The expansion could be accomplished at no additional cost and would help preserve the rich history of "Shipwreck Alley" for historians and divers, where dozens of ships perished in the waters of Lake Huron.
The bill, which Levin introduced in March, must now be considered by the full Senate before being sent to the House of Representatives for its consideration. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is a co-sponsor of the measure.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was created in October 2000 as a unique federal-state partnership, and is the nation's first national freshwater sanctuary. The sanctuary preserves the maritime history of the Great Lakes, offers educational opportunities for students and researchers and provides a fascinating site for divers and snorkelers to explore.
Levin's bill the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve Boundary Modification Act would extend the sanctuary's boundaries to include the waters off Alcona, Alpena and Presque Isle counties in Michigan and would extend the sanctuary east to the international boundary. The current sanctuary includes 448 square miles of water and 115 miles of shoreline, and the expansion would include 4,085 square miles and include 226 miles of shoreline.
Throughout history, the Great Lakes have been an important passageway and trading route. The geography of Thunder Bay and the weather patterns in the lakes, however, caused dozens of ships to perish in what mariners call "Shipwreck Alley." Because the wrecks are in fresh water, many of the sites are well preserved and have been a wealth of information for researchers and students. The current sanctuary holds 116 shipwrecks, and the expansion proposed in the bill would protect an estimated 178 additional shipwrecks. The sanctuary also protects and interprets the remains of commercial fishing sites, historic docks, and other underwater archaeological sites.
The expansion would extend the sanctuary to cover the historic shipwreck site of the Cornelia B. Windiate, which is a three-mast wooden schooner and one of the Great Lakes' most intact shipwrecks. The ship sank in December 1875 when bound from Milwaukee to Buffalo with a cargo of wheat, and was featured in an episode of Deep Sea Detectives on the History Channel. The expansion would also cover the H.P. Bridge, a three-mast wooden barkentine that contains many artifacts such as pottery, clothing, and ship tackle and hardware.
The sanctuary also has been a model for research and education programs. Using real-time video links, students in Alpena interact with divers exploring underwater worlds thousands of miles away. In the near future, students from around the country will be able to control remote submarines that allow them to explore the E.B. Allen or the steamship Montana. Visitors to Thunder Bay can view artifacts and interpretive exhibits and watch films about Thunder Bay and all of the countries maritime sanctuaries. Scientists from around the world dock their vessels in the Thunder Bay River as they use the facility for their research.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration originally proposed for the sanctuary to encompass an area twice as big as what was established, but the proposal was scaled back to address concerns raised by some state and local communities that wanted to begin cautiously. Today, the expansion has broad support throughout the area.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary took another step toward seeing its boundaries expand, as the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted Thursday to approve a bill authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. to do just that. The expansion could be accomplished at no additional cost and would help preserve the rich history of "Shipwreck Alley" for historians and divers, where dozens of ships perished in the waters of Lake Huron.
Legal confusion over a RFP for Northern Lights management
The Alpena News,Staff
ALPENA - Confusion over the legality of the Alpena County Commissioners putting a request for proposal out for the management and operation of the Northern Lights Arena came to a head on Thursday during the Alpena Intergovernmental Council meeting.
The commissioners were asked why the RFP was issued by the county and not by the Alpena Area Recreation Commission, which has some oversight on management selections.
Alpena Municipal Council member Mike Nunneley asked the commissioners to explain why they chose to bypass the AARC and inquired as to if it was in accordance with the Department of Natural Resources grant agreement and the NLA agreement. Commissioner Lyle Van Wormer said written opinion was given to the commissioners before the RFP was sent out and deemed legal. Nunneley asked if the commissioners would share the document with the city and townships, who are part of the original arena agreement, but Commissioner Cam Habermehl said he wasn't sure if it would violate client-attorney privilege.
"The arena is owned by the county," Habermehl said. "I take exception to hearing Alpena Township owns it or the city owns it. It is not, it is the taxpayers of Alpena County. It belongs to the county and everyone in it. It doesn't belong to the city, it doesn't belong to the townships. I don't have an issue of giving them the opinion, I don't know if there is an issue."
During the discussion Commissioner Ken Hubbard said there have been issues with current management, the Multi-Purpose Arena Coalition, not paying its bills on time. Alpena Township Supervisor Marie Twite, who also sits on the AARC board, was shocked and asked for the commissioners to explain and to be more specific because the budgets presented to the AARC from M-PAC have been in the black. Nunneley said he didn't receive a straight answer to the question.
"M-PAC is submitting a monthly report to the AARC because there is a lot more focus on that because M-PAC had its challenges several years ago," Nunneley said. "From what I have heard in news reports who cover the meeting is that they are functioning at or above profitability. Now if the commissioners know of something different than that, then the forum to bring that up is at the intergovernmental recreation council so all the partners are aware of it and bring it back to the representing municipalities. I was never aware that there was any cause for concern until today. It raises concerns, and I hope at the next meeting it is dived into."
Both the city and Alpena Township are going to have their attorneys look at the arena agreement to see if the county circumventing the AARC to issue the RFP is legal. Twite said she is confident the recreation board was supposed to be the one to do it.
"I'm concerned the commissioners are running an RFP, when it should come out of the AARC board," Twite said. "If they thought we weren't doing it properly, they could have sent us a letter suggesting we look for more proposals. I don't have a problem with others throwing in a request, but it should go to the AARC and not the county.Until we are out of there, the AARC is still managing that arena."
Habermehl said once the DNR bonds are paid off, he thinks the AARC will be abolished and the day-to-day operators of the arena will report to the county only.
"It is my understanding AARC will not be dealing with the arena," Habermehl said. "The management will deal directly with the county, because we own the building."