Monday, November 27, 2006

Live fire on the Great Lakes

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Originally uploaded by Tidewater Muse.
Well, the question of life fire on the Great Lakes remains for the Coast Guard. Or, at least that's what we're being told. The latest official word is that the Service is reviewing input received from the round of public hearings.

From the Associated Press:
The U.S. Coast Guard says it has to go over reams of public comment before it decides whether to resume target practice with machine guns on the Great Lakes.

The target-practice proposal didn't sit well with public officials, boaters and environmentalists. Some worried about the safety of boaters -- and others raised concerns about lead contamination in the lakes.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Ryan Barone says the Coast Guard will spend as long as it takes to thoroughly review the more than one-thousand comments submitted.
Would I be a cynic if I suggested that no matter what the thousands of comments said, the Coast Guard will still decide in favor of live fire on the Great Lakes?

This morning, The Daily Press in Escanaba, MI, published this op/ed piece by Representative Bart Stupak:
Earlier this month, at my prompting, the Coast Guard held a public meeting in Charlevoix to discuss its proposal to establish 34 live gunfire training zones on our Great Lakes.

The Charlevoix meeting brought to my attention a number of reservations held by my constituents. While I recognize the importance of ensuring adequate training for Coast Guard personnel, these concerns should be addressed before this new proposal is adopted.

The Coast Guard’s initial plan to notify the public via marine band radio and the Federal Register demonstrates a bureaucratic mindset that is out of touch with the boating public. For many boaters, marine band radio is not their primary source of nautical information, and few people read the Federal Register.

To address this problem, I worked to include a provision in this year’s Homeland Security Appropriations bill that requires that the Coast Guard put the word out by notifying harbormasters and local media of upcoming live fire exercises. While this minimal requirement is a step in the right direction, it is disconcerting that it required an act of Congress for the Coast Guard to provide adequate public notification.

Beyond notification, I am concerned that these zones are located in high traffic areas and will affect boating, fishing, and other activities on the Great Lakes. One of the zones covers part of the route used by the Beaver Island Ferry. Requiring the Beaver Island Ferry, as well as other boat traffic, to divert their course could increase fuel costs and travel time, possibly increase ticket prices and even reduce tourism to Beaver Island. Placing live fire zones in other heavily trafficked areas will also further endanger commercial and recreational mariners.

There are also environmental concerns. The training exercises will result in 7,000 pounds of lead being dumped into our Great Lakes each year. That is more lead than the entire state of Michigan and all of its industries and pollution sources emit to surface waters every year. The Coast Guard should conduct additional studies on the consequences of significantly increasing the amount of lead in the Great Lakes before moving forward.

We should also examine using “green ammunition,” which is an environmentally friendly alternative to lead bullets. The environmental effects of the Coast Guard’s plan might be mitigated if the Coast Guard used this substitute to lead bullets.

Other excellent points were raised during the Charlevoix meeting. For instance, representatives of Native American tribes have not been consulted. The Coast Guard is required to consult the tribes because Great Lakes waters are held in trust for the tribes by the federal government. We must also be careful that the Coast Guard does not run afoul of international treaties regarding the use and amount of weaponry allowed on the Great Lakes.

The citizens also asked the Coast Guard, “Why now?” Why, five years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, does the Coast Guard need increased fire power on the Great Lakes? Is there an imminent threat that requires increased weaponry on the Great Lakes? Does the Coast Guard really need all 34 zones on the Great Lakes? As these citizens’ questions were left unanswered by the Coast Guard, I will be following up with the Coast Guard.

As co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus and founder of the Law Enforcement Caucus, I understand the need for security at our nation’s borders. Our government has no greater responsibility than protecting its citizens. To the extent the Coast Guard’s live fire proposal helps prepare them for that task, it is worthy of discussion. Nonetheless, there remain a number of unanswered questions that the Coast Guard should address before rushing to begin live fire training on the Lakes.
Indeed, unanswered questions. I wonder if we'll ever hear the answers.

1 comment:

  1. Well I agree that the decision has already been made. In fact the Coast Guard already conducted these live fire exercises in Jan. 2006 without this proposed rule.

    This rule only addresses the permanent nature of the firing zones whereas in prior training they used temporary zones. The Coast Guard would presumably continue with temporary zones if this rulemaking does not go through.

    I am planning to file a citizen suit for violation of several federal environmental laws when my sixty-day notice expires in January 2007.

    Steven B. Pollack, Attorney Great Lakes Protection Fort Sheridan Litigation General Practice