Citing Citizen Concerns, Walker Rescinds Federal Marine Sanctuary Request

MacIver News Service | March 9, 2018

By Chris Rochester

MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker this week rescinded a request to the federal government to create a marine sanctuary off the coast of Lake Michigan after citizens raised concerns about new bureaucracy and its impact on the rights of the state and property owners.

The request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was initially made in 2014 but rescinded after the agency failed to adequately address the concerns raised by Wisconsin citizens.

“The Constitution of the United States gives no authority of the federal government to have this kind of initiative. It’s reserved to the states,” Ron Zahn told MacIver News last summer.

“After further review and receiving concerns from citizens, we decided it was not in the best interest of the state to move forward with this designation,” Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg told MacIver News.

Walker’s original proposal was for an 875-square-mile sanctuary, but NOAA’s most recent plan was for a massive region of between 1,075 and 1,260 square miles, potentially stretching from Kewaunee to Ozaukee Counties, the Sheboygan Press reported.

“We believe this designation would create further unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. The addition of another level of federal bureaucracy will not materially advance our shared commitment to protecting shipwrecks,” Walker said in a Feb. 27 letter to NOAA Administrator Benjamin Friedman.

Walker’s decision is a response to continued concerns about the possibility of more bureaucratic red tape and erosions of basic property rights, concerns that were not adequately addressed by the NOAA in the agency’s response to a September follow-up letter by Walker.

“Though we appreciate NOAA’s reply, we feel these concerns persist given this additional information,” the letter states.

Last summer, some concerned citizens launched an effort to stop the sanctuary, fearing the effort to protect shipwrecks off the Lake Michigan coast would take a piece of Wisconsin’s sovereignty, create another power-hungry bureaucracy, and unnecessarily cost taxpayers money the federal treasury doesn’t have.

One of the groups who voiced concerns was the Wisconsin Conservative Coalition, a nonpartisan association of four northeast Wisconsin conservative/Tea Party groups. “The Constitution of the United States gives no authority of the federal government to have this kind of initiative. It’s reserved to the states.” WI-CC chairman Ron Zahn told MacIver News last summer.

Zahn and others opposed to NOAA’s plan say the proposal is an incursion on Wisconsin’s Tenth Amendment rights. He and his group urged supporters to contact the governor and express their concerns about what they see as an erosion of the state’s Tenth Amendment rights.

“We’ve allowed the federal government to chip away, chip away, little nice things over many decades,” Zahn said at the time. “Each time that happens, we lose something.”

Shoreline property owners also raised concerns, saying the national marine sanctuary would take away basic riparian rights.

“Wisconsin law recognizes that owners of lands bordering lakes and rivers – ‘riparian’ owners – hold rights in the water next to their property. These riparian rights include the use of shoreline, reasonable use of the water, and a right to access the water,” according to the DNR.

Russ Green, NOAA regional coordinator for the proposed marine sanctuary, acknowledged last summer there were concerns on the commercial side, mainly from the shippers in the Lake Carriers Association, about the potential for agency regulations creating “unintended consequences” in their wake.

Green said NOAA was working to “make sure that doesn’t happen,” but could not speak to the amount of money associated with fines or how they would be levied, instead insisting that NOAA “will address that.”

In other words, “just trust us,” Zahn chided, citing various examples of overreach and ‘mission creep’ by federal agencies.

Walker’s letter went on to say that while the state values protecting shipwrecks, “the NOAA designation would not bring any additional resources” to that cause.

“Wisconsin has and will continue to protect our submerged cultural resources,” Walker’s letter stated.