EDITORIAL: Target: Lake Michigan
Published September 12, 2006
When the news broke about the Coast Guard's plans to
conduct target practice with real ammunition on Lake Michigan,
the first thought that flashed to mind was of the movie
"1941." That was a comedy starring John Belushi,
about skittish Californians in the days after Pearl Harbor,
on the alert for a Japanese invasion that never came.
But the Coast Guard isn't joking.
It wants to establish "live-fire zones" in
waters near Highland Park, Lake Forest and Waukegan and
in 33 other spots around the Great Lakes. The Guard says
it needs to fire at floating targets in the lakes to train
for "missions relating to military operations and
Coast Guard officials have promised plenty of warnings
and safety measures. These exercises would only happen
two or three times a year.
But still. As word has spread, so has concern.
Fishermen, boaters and others who cruise the lake or
just sunbathe on the beach fret about potential dangers.
Is it possible that boaters could wander unwittingly into
the live-fire zones, even with warning craft stationed
to keep them out? Could stray bullets zing along the lakeshore
and endanger beachgoers, even though the exercises are
planned for at least five miles offshore?
The Coast Guard's plans apparently surprised Rep. Peter
Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who serves on a congressional subcommittee
that oversees the Guard. "When we think about the
Coast Guard on the Great Lakes, we think about search-and-rescue
missions, not firing machine guns," he said.
The weapons in question are 7.62 mm guns, which can fire
up to 600 rounds a minute. They were mounted on ships
as part of the nation's anti-terrorism efforts, according
to the Federal Register. But that was only recently. And
that required changes to a treaty that the U.S. and Canada
signed after the War of 1812.
This proposal is, wisely, on hold for the moment. The
Coast Guard has agreed to solicit more public comment
and may hold public hearings, as Hoekstra urges.
It should. The people who live on the lakes deserve more
information. One boater who operates out of East Chicago
suggested what seems a better idea: "Why don't they
just get all their people in the middle of the lake, take
care of what they need to do and let the rest of us fish?"
It's been a long time since we've thought much about
military training maneuvers on Lake Michigan. They were
routine during World War II, including anti-aircraft guns
shooting at airborne targets.
A terror threat to Lake Michigan and the other Great
Lakes hasn't been a topic of high concern. But it undoubtedly
exists, as do threats to metropolitan Chicago. Yet as
one boat association president said, "We're all for
homeland security, but we have a lot of questions about
The Coast Guard will have compelling, or inadequate,
answers. We're all ears (and earplugs).
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune