Two Rivers, Manitowoc could benefit from marine sanctuary
Written by Times News Reporter   
Tuesday, 11 August 2009 08:57
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will decide soon where along Lake Michigan it wants to build the headquarters for its proposed marine sanctuary.

Manitowoc and Two Rivers are two of the finalists, along with Sheboygan and Port Washington. Ellen Brody, regional coordinator for the Great Lakes and Northeast Region for NOAA, said the decision about where to build the headquarters is going to be difficult.

"We've been welcomed with open arms in each of the four places we've been visiting," Brody said. "I really feel like we can't go wrong with any of the places."

The sanctuary's purpose is to study and preserve the many shipwrecks in Lake Michigan, Brody said. The study area begins just north of Two Rivers and ends just south of Port Washington. Brody has said she would like to open the sanctuary "within two to three years."

Brody has met with city officials in each of the four possible locations and said each place would love to be "the home base."

"They all want it," Brody said. "We never really thought that would be an issue."

Brody has spent much of the last year scouting possible locations for the sanctuary. Besides meeting with city officials, she's also met with local divers and fishermen.

"I think it's gone extremely well," Brody said. "I think everyone sees the benefits from this."

Including Two Rivers' city manager Greg Buckley.

"It emphasizes some of our area's unique, indigenous resources and would further highlight the role that Lake Michigan has played in our natural and cultural history," Buckley said. "Unlike man-made, contrived tourist attractions, our area's beaches, magnificent Lake Michigan vistas, maritime and fishing heritage and history of shipwrecks are all very much for real."

Manitowoc mayor Justin Nickels could not be reached for comment.

Brody said the cities would receive a big tourism boost.

"The Thunder Bay sanctuary really put Alpena, Mich., on the map," Brody said. "It's a huge positive that can bring in a lot of tourist dollars."

Brody emphasizes that the state is partnered with NOAA on the project, and said she doesn't expect any problems moving forward.

"I really haven't seen any resistance," Brody said. "I am very optimistic."

Brody said it's too early to project how much the sanctuary would cost, but said it cost "between $2 million and $3 million" to open the sanctuary in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"It doesn't necessarily mean it would cost that much," Brody said. "There are so many factors to consider."

The sanctuary would be the third dedicated primarily to preserving shipwrecks. The other two include Thunder Bay and the Monitor sanctuary off the coast of North Carolina.

Keith Meverden, maritime archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society, said the number of shipwrecks in Lake Michigan makes the eastern lakeshore an obvious place for a sanctuary.

"This is the largest collection of nationally significant shipwrecks." Meverden said.

According to a map provided by NOAA, there are 31 known and 52 "probable" shipwrecks in the area. The majority of the shipwrecks are closest to Two Rivers and Sheboygan, which Buckley said he hopes boosts Two Rivers' chances of getting the headquarters.

"(We have) proximity to the largest concentration of shipwrecks within the proposed sanctuary area," Buckley said. "(That would) provide faster, more convenient access to a large number of dive sites."

Or it could favor Manitowoc, which is located between the two cities and could be seen as the most central.

"Everything is taken into consideration," Brody said. "There is no cookie-cutter approach to starting a sanctuary. We're going to take our time and make sure we do it right."

Buckley said the sanctuary would fit in well with the other museums and historical landmarks in the area.

"The proposed project is a great tie-in to our area's maritime past and present and will help enhance the resources available to and the attendance at our area's marine museums, both at historic Rogers Street Fishing Village and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum," Buckley said. "The establishment of the sanctuary will drive more visits to the area by both divers and others interested in the lore of shipwrecks across the bottom of Lake Michigan in our area."

Brody said she hopes the people in all of the proposed locations support the sanctuary no matter where they decide to build.

"I hope people don't see this as a 'winner-takes-all,'" Brody said. "No matter where it winds up it's something that really can benefit all of the communities."
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