Walker nixes Lake Michi­gan ma­rine sanc­tu­ary

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - MATT ROTH­SCHILD

Gov. Scott Walker re­scinded his nom­i­na­tion for a fed­eral des­ig­na­tion of a ma­rine sanc­tu­ary north of Mil­wau­kee March 6 and he caught a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise.

“It did blind­side many of us,” says Rolf John­son, the CEO of the Wis­con­sin Mar­itime Mu­seum in Man­i­towoc. “I was re­ally ex­cited about this.”

“It would have been real pos­i­tive,” says She­boy­gan Mayor Mike Van­der­steen.

Walker had made the nom­i­na­tion back in 2014 with the support of the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the area, in­clud­ing Man­i­towoc, Port Washington, She­boy­gan and Two Rivers. The des­ig­na­tion was sup­posed to pre­serve the area for scuba divers and oth­ers in­ter­ested in ship­wrecks. And it was ex­pected to boost tourism.

The Wis­con­sin-Lake Michi­gan Na­tional Ma­rine Sanc­tu­ary was slated to cover “about 1,075 square miles of Lake Michi­gan and pro­tect 37 ship­wrecks and 80 un­ex­plored po­ten­tial ship­wrecks and other cul­tural re­sources off the coasts of Man­i­towoc, She­boy­gan and Ozau­kee coun­ties,” ac­cord­ing to the Her­ald Times Reporter of Man­i­towoc.

“The gover­nor’s de­ci­sion rep­re­sents a missed op­por­tu­nity for all of us,” says Kathy Tank, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Port Washington Tourism Coun­cil.

So why did Walker, who brags about boost­ing tourism, all of a sud­den change his mind on the ma­rine sanc­tu­ary?

Well, it turns out some rightwing ide­o­logues, along with Lake Michi­gan prop­erty own­ers, made a stink.

Jim Zeiler is pres­i­dent of a group called Ci­ti­zens for Re­spon­si­ble Zon­ing and Landowner Rights, based in Hud­son, on the Mis­sis­sippi River, in the north­west corner of Wis­con­sin. But he went clear across the state to make the ma­rine sanc­tu­ary his own white whale. Zeiler, by the way, was named “Vol­un­teer of the Year” in 2009 by Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity Wis­con­sin, which is funded by the Koch Broth­ers.

Zeiler was apoplec­tic that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, un­der the aus­pices of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, was some­how go­ing to take over Lake Michi­gan. He said the agency was “con­ceal­ing a quest for added ju­ris­dic­tion and power.”

Zeiler held lis­ten­ing ses­sions in the com­mu­ni­ties along Lake Michi­gan and spoke out at mu­nic­i­pal meet­ings.

He also helped con­vince some lake­front prop­erty own­ers to join him in try­ing to deep-six the sanc­tu­ary. Iron­i­cally, the landown­ers called their group “Lake Michi­gan Is Not for Sale,” though, of course, they don’t own the lake them­selves and if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment des­ig­nated it as a ma­rine sanc­tu­ary, we all would own it, as ci­ti­zens of the United States.

“We do not be­lieve that Wis­con­sin should give up over a thou­sand square miles of ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty,” the group says on its web­site. Mem­bers of the group went from door to door along the lake­front to gather support for their po­si­tion from prop­erty own­ers.

The Wis­con­sin Con­ser­va­tive Coali­tion, con­sist­ing of four tea party groups, also op­posed the des­ig­na­tion.

“The Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States gives no au­thor­ity to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to have this kind of ini­tia­tive,” Ron Zahn, chair­man of the Wis­con­sin Con­ser­va­tive Coali­tion, told M. D. Kit­tle of the right-wing MacIver News Ser­vice.

Walker’s de­ci­sion was “po­lit­i­cal,” says Man­i­towoc Mayor Justin Nick­els. “He was ap­peal­ing to a tiny fringe of his base.”

Af­ter Walker an­nounced his de­ci­sion, he re­ceived praise from the Wis­con­sin Wa­ter Al­liance, whose of­fi­cers in­clude the gen­eral coun­sel of MilkSource LLC, one of the big­gest fac­tory farms in Wis­con­sin, as well as the gen­eral coun­sel of Wis­con­sin Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Com­merce, the most pow­er­ful lob­by­ing group in Wis­con­sin.

But pro­po­nents of the ma­rine sanc­tu­ary haven’t given up.

“We re­spect­fully ask that Gov. Walker re­con­sider this de­ci­sion,” wrote Nick­els, Van­der­steen and Mayor Tom Mlada of Port Washington, in a March 13 let­ter in the Her­ald Times Reporter. There was “no rea­son to pull the plug on years of work, on lit­er­ally tens of thou­sands of hours of work in­vested in es­tab­lish­ment of our sanc­tu­ary,” they wrote. “We have come too far to turn back, worked too hard to just ac­cept a sur­prise an­nounce­ment that ‘it’s over.’”

The may­ors also urged “res­i­dents, busi­nesses and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions that support and be­lieve in the ef­fort to con­tact the gover­nor’s of­fice. Please join us in af­firm­ing the support for the sanc­tu­ary that is both broad and deep in our Lake Michi­gan com­mu­ni­ties.”

On March 18, res­i­dents in Two Rivers re­sponded by hold­ing a protest to get Walker to change his mind.

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