9th District Coast Guard Meeting - Grand Haven, MI
Written by Greg Houtteman   
Thursday, 19 October 2006 12:41

Educatedangler.com attended the Grand Haven meeting held by the 9th District Coast Guard, and they brought the big guns in showing that they really do care and have heard the public outcry.  The Coast Guard had the 9th District Commander, RADM J. E. Crowley, Jr., the head of the 9th District Response Division, CAPT M. N. Parks, and the Master Chief who runs the weapons training program for the 9th District.

The 9th District had a public information area for the public which began at 4pm and went to 5:30pm, in this area they had a target buoy, description of the weapons being used, and maps of all the live fire zones.  The Coast Guard had public affairs staff on-hand to answer questions and engage the public as they came in, and frankly they made a point to address anyone who was there.

The Weapons being used are both 5.56mm M-16 and 7.62mm M24oB machine gun which will be mounted foreword and aft on the Coast Guard boats.  As described by a public affairs officer the live fire zones were chosen using a combination of many factors, some of which were:
  • Because the training is being done by active crews it was necessary to have the live fire zones within the crews AO (Area of Operation) and guarantee proper response times in case of emergencies.
  • No zones could be in active shipping channels, although the Grand Haven/Muskegon Zone is in the path of the Lake Express Ferry operating out of Muskegon.
  • The depth of water was required to be over 20 feet, although most zones are well over that, and the average depth of water is about 200 FOW. 
  • The Zones had to be outside of 3 miles of shore, however most if not all are a minimum of 5 miles offshore
  • The bottom had to be a soft bottom

The Master Chief described the training procedures as the following; each training operation will include two platforms (boats), the firing platform and the security platform.  Two hours prior to commencing a live fire exercise a Notice to Mariners will be broadcast on Channel 16 VHF-FM with the details of the exercise.  Broadcast will continue periodically until the exercise commences, upon live fire the broadcast will be executed every 15 minutes on Channel 16 until the conclusion of the exercise.  Upon conclusion the Notice to Mariners will be cancelled.

During the live fire exercise the safety platform will be monitoring radar for a 6 mile safety zone.  If a breach of the safety zone is detected a cease fire will be immediately imposed and the safety platform will attempt to contact the detected vessel via radio on Channel 16.  If radio contact is made the safety platform will direct the vessel for a safe passage, upon clearing the area the safety platform will allow live fire to resume.  If the vessel can not be contacted via marine radio the safety platform will intercept the vessel and guide them to a safe passage, upon clearing the live fire safety zone the safety platform will allow live fire to resume.

Each live fire exercise will take approximately 4 to 6 hours and each crew will be trained once a year.  On average per year, each live fire safety zone will be utilized approximately 24 hours a year, spread over 3 or 4 non-consecutive days.  The 9th District is cognizant that these areas are used recreationally and will avoid conflicting with high use times such as fishing tournaments, regattas, holidays, etc…  The 9th District stated that they will communicate with the affected communities prior to live fire exercises to utilize as many avenues as possible to inform the public.

The 9th District also presented their environmental impact study during the presentation examining the effects of expending thousands of 5.56mm and 7.62mm rounds for each exercise.  The study was conducted by a consulting firm and was paid for by the Coast Guard, no independent study has been made that we are aware of.  The study concluded that no environmental risk is associated with the live fire exercises, and took into account the worst case scenarios in all measurements including:
  • 10,000 rounds per exercise, although the actual number is likely to be closer to 3,000 but as many a 5,000.
  • That each round broke up and was not intact when deposited on the bottom

Even while exaggerating these factors the study indicated that there were no increased risks to wildlife or drinking water for affected communities.  This study used EPA models for contamination and uptakes that are used for Super Funds sites.  However, this study could only project 5 years out and did not take into account the effects for long periods of live fire operation in these areas.

After all of the presentations the public was encouraged to speak, and it became apparent that there are 3 main areas of contention with the live fire zones and live fire exercises in general on the Great Lakes.

Firstly, violation of the treaty of 1812 restricting the operation of armed vessels on the Great Lakes, which has been reinterpreted to allow for armed Coast Guard vessels and live fire exercise.  Within this argument are the cooling affects of this on our relationship with Canada and our ability to work in conjunction with the Canadian Coast Guard.  The broader concern of the incremental militarization of the United States and the changing mission of the Coast Guard from safety to interdiction and security post 9/11.

The second major area of contention is the pollution associated with depositing hundreds of thousands of lead projectiles in the Great Lakes.  While the Coast Guard presented their environmental impact study no independent study has been made and no long-term study has been initiated to project effects over a 5 year period.

The third area of objection was the general concern for the safety of the boating public and the potential for accidents or accidental death to occur during live fire exercises.  While the safety concerns were addressed the general concern still exists that an accident will happen and that may cause a long-term wedge between the community and the Coast Guard.

There was no debate between the public and the Coast Guard, each member of the community was allowed 3 minutes to make a statement.  This is a very contentious subject and brought out many members of the public showing support or opposition to the Coast Guard’s plans.

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