The Kewaunee County Board on Tuesday declined to endorse a proposal for a National Marine Sanctuary extending along the eastern Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Supervisors voted 10-5 against a resolution that would have put the board on record as endorsing the idea of including Kewaunee County in a partnership among the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to create a conservation zone from Ozaukee County north.
Supporters of the concept billed the proposal as a boon for tourism, especially among people who enjoy diving the dozens of historic shipwrecks on the lake bottom. Opponents expressed concerns about ceding state authority to the federal agency.
“I’m concerned about losing state rights once the federal government gets control,” Supervisor Charles Schmitt said
County Board Chairman Robert Weidner, who postponed a vote on the resolution for four months after the board’s Executive Committee endorsed it, said the marine sanctuary has been sold as a Mecca for divers, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be out there now.
“It’s about do we want the federal government to overlay the authority of the state rules and presumably county plans on how we want to use our lake and lakeshore,” Weidner said.
Supervisor Lee Luft said there was an outpouring of support from Kewaunee County residents to expand the plan northward after Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties floated the idea. More than 100 people atteneded an informational meeting in Algoma designed to drum up support.
The first Great Lakes Marine Sanctuary, off Alpena, Michigan, has been so successful, the communities adjacent to the original Lake Huron sanctuary asked to be included, and it is now three times its original size, bringing thousands of visitors and millions of tourist dollars to Upper Michigan every year, Luft said.
“I think we would have a tremendous amount to gain by being a part of this, and I think we would be missing a huge opportunity to bring new people into our area if we pass on this opportunity,” he said, adding that the Algoma and Kewaunee city councils have expressed support.
Supervisor Virginia Haske said he husband has family in Alpena, and so she has visited Alpena before and after the marine sanctuary was established 17 years ago. The area has grown significantly, she said.
“They wouldn’t be doing that if there were bad things going on,” Haske said. “I think we need to be talking to the Alpena people and getting their side.”
Voting in favor of the resolution were Luft, Haske, and Supervisors Cory Cochart, Tom Cretney, and John Mastalir.
Opposed were Weidner, Schmitt, Daniel Olson, Douglas Doell, Scott Jahnke, Aaron Augustian, Kim Kroll, Tom Romdenee, Linda Terkel, and Joe Lukes.