Coast Guard withdraws live-fire training proposal
Written by Associated Press and Grand Haven Tribune   
Monday, 18 December 2006 15:43

The Coast Guard is withdrawing plans to periodically close 2,500 square miles of the Great Lakes for live machine-gun firing exercises, officials announced Monday afternoon.  The decision follows internal review, meetings with many community leaders, as well as nine public meetings, and numerous comments from the public and their elected representatives, Coast Guard officials said.

Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Dave Obey, D-Wis., said Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's commandant, told them the exercises would be suspended indefinitely and the proposal would be withdrawn.

Oberstar said Allen "was dissatisfied with the process by which the Coast Guard undertook this activity."

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said Coast Guard officials told him of the decision over the program, which was criticized by several U.S. and Canadian mayors, business leaders and environmentalists who said it could be unsafe and disruptive.

"The Coast Guard appreciates the thoughtful comments we received and we will work with the public to ensure the Coast Guard can meet any threat to public safety or security. We are committed to addressing the concerns that training be safe, preserve the diverse uses of the Lakes, and protect the environment," said Rear Adm. John E. Crowley, Jr., commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District.

"As a native son of the region I take the Coast Guard's role as guardians of the Great Lakes very seriously. The Great Lakes are one of the nation's most precious resources. The current NPRM is unsatisfactory and I will take the time to get this right. We will not conduct live-fire training on the Great Lakes to satisfy non-emergency training requirements unless we publish a rule, and I intend to reconsider the number, frequency of use, and location of water training areas as well as other concerns raised by the public. I am also committed to pursuing environmentally-friendly alternatives to the lead ammunition we currently use."

Coast Guard officials had stressed in hearings around the Great Lakes in recent months that live fire practice was an essential part of weapons training and noted they have safely conducted live-fire tests in the nation's coastal waters for years.

The Coast Guard had said the plan was designed to create test zones and schedules that would have minimal effect on the environment and Great Lakes boat traffic. Two areas outside of Grand Haven and Muskegon were included in the 34 proposed live-fire zones.

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