Walker Backs Lake Michigan Sanctuary Zone

In recent weeks an opposition group has raised questions about a Lake Michigan Sanctuary proposed for an area off of the lake’s Wisconsin shoreline. The state purpose of the sanctuary is to protect historic shipwrecks. Leaders in communities adjacent to the zone, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Port Washington have expressed strong support for the sanctuary. But as Media Trackers reported this month, the group Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Landowner Rights(CRZLR) has raised concerns about the proposed sanctuary, which would be managed by the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

CRZLR spokesman James Zeiler says the sanctuaries give NOAA far more authority than is widely know. Zeiler says other sanctuaries have been used to stifle fossil fuel exploration and can be used to stymie development. Zeiler argues the Governor Scott Walker administration embraced the proposed Lake Michigan sanctuary without knowing all the facts. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson says that’s not true and that Zeiler’s fears are unfounded:

This project has been a collaboration between local communities, state, and federal representatives for years. This designation will not affect fishing or property rights. It simply does not allow anchors to be dropped nor dredging on historically designated shipwrecks marked by buoys. This designation will expand recreational and tourism opportunities for communities along the Lake Michigan coast and increase the significance of the Great Lakes in Wisconsin’s history.

In an email response to Media Trackers seeking comment, Zeiler claims Evenson is simply wrong:

Governor Walker has failed to note the comments of President Jimmy Carter’s May, 1977, Environment Message to Congress. President Carter clearly and unequivocally stated Sanctuaries are intended to stop development in oceans and the Great Lakes. Carter’s words coupled with the NOAA regulations outlawing all exploration and development of oil and minerals will affect future generations of Wisconsinites. Surprisingly Governor Walker claims to be the Jobs Governor.


Sanctuary regulations prohibit dredging, altering or any construction on the bottomlands. A wind turbine, pipeline or water intake pipe would not be allowed. Damaging known and unknown shipwrecks, marked or unmarked, are serious violations and are treated harshly.


NOAA’s plan extends the sanctuary boundary to the “Ordinary High Water Mark” along the shoreline. This conflicts with the landowner’s property rights concerning riparian rights as it moves the boundary onshore.


Once NOAA gains jurisdiction the issue of sales of water presents another issue. Currently Waukesha is seeking access to Lake Michigan. A sanctuary gives the Federal government another layer of control over state issues.


Governor Walker admits the proposal to surrender state jurisdiction and sovereignty has been under consideration for years.  Another year or two added to the timeline will allow for open, transparent public debate and allow the Legislature to review the issue.

Community leaders in several affected Wisconsin cities have embraced the sanctuary. Rolf Johnson, CEO of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, said that the sanctuary, if designated, would create positive economic, educational, and cultural benefits for our region and state. In fact, a University of Michigan study of the impact of the Thunder Bay sanctuary said it brought economic benefits to the region.  Zeiler counters that there are already regulations in place to protect shipwrecks and that whatever jobs are created by the sanctuaries are low paying.

In contrast,  proponents of  the proposed Chumash Sanctuary off the California coast made no secret of the fact that stopping fossil fuel exploration was their goal. The Sheboygan Press reported that while some homeowners expressed concerns at a public meeting on the proposed sanctuary in March, most attending supported the proposal.