Coast Guard responds to concerns
By George Weeks
Published December 13, 2006
DETROIT — Northern Michigan’s congressmen have valid complaints about the original Coast Guard proposal for 34 live gunfire-training zones on the Great Lakes.
So do assorted shoreline mayors and the hundreds of others who submitted complaints to the Cleveland-based district commander of those heroes of storm and other strife who have been guardians of the lakes since the service was formed in 1915.
But officials should now allow legitimate complaints about how the Coast Guard crafted and unveiled the original proposal prevent it, in the end, from conducting needed training.
If there’s ever hostile gunfire on the Great Lakes — if, say, terrorists in swift boats attack the Mackinac Bridge or other targets — let our on-the-spot guardians be trained to prevail.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, in a conference call with Michigan reporters last week, repeated what he said in an opinion piece in the Northern Express regarding a November hearing held at his prompting in Charlevoix, when “citizens asked the Coast Guard, ‘Why now?’ Why, five years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, does the Coast Guard need increased firepower on the Great Lakes? Is there an imminent threat that requires increased weaponry on the Great Lakes?”
There certainly are potential threats. The Coast Guard needs firepower on the Great Lakes, as it has elsewhere, well beyond the small shoreline Lyle Guns that long ago shot rescue lines out to distressed ships on our lakes.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, chairman of House Intelligence Committee, told me Friday defensive gunfire “is a skill we want (Coast Guard) folks to have” on the lakes in these days of potential terrorist threats.
But Hoekstra, like Stupak and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, had numerous complaints about the original proposal. After a Spring Lake hearing held at Hoekstra’s request, he asked the Coast Guard to consider four things that he believes would address about 90 percent of the complaints:
l Avoid training during peak recreational boating on the lakes, training “maybe before May 15 and after Sept. 15.”
l Better ways to notify boaters of when training exercises are to be conducted.
l Using bullets with something other than the lead that worries environmentalists.
l Consolidating the number of training zones. Why have 34 zones, including one in the path of the ferry from Charlevoix to Beaver Island?
Hoekstra said about 10 percent of the complaints are that the training would “militarize” the Great Lakes. Nonsense.
Fortunately, the Coast Guard, after an inept, below-the-radar unveiling of its proposal, seems headed toward accommodation with Up North’s lawmakers and their constituents.
Rear Adm. John E. Crowley Jr., commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, vowed in a Traverse City Record-Eagle forum piece to “render a decision that reflects both the public’s concern and the Coast Guard’s requirement to be prepared to meet any threat to public safety or security.”
It strikes me that requirement has tended to be lost amid the public focus on concerns.
With America at war, it has been encouraging that Michigan’s Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, works well with Chairman John Warner of Virginia. Their roles will be reversed come January.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Hoekstra vows that when he becomes its ranking Republican next year, there will be as cooperative a working relationship with new Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, as Hoekstra has had with current ranking Democrat Jane Harman, D-Calif.
“I think Silvestre and I are going to have the same kind of relationship,” Hoekstra told me after his meeting with Reyes. “I get the sense he is going to reach out to me as I did to Jane.”
Hoekstra said, “Jane and I are very good friends. She told me ‘I’ve probably fought with my husband the last few years more than I’ve fought with you.’ Of course, there were different issues.”
If there is bipartisan cooperation in the intelligence “business,” he said, the United States can have “a sharp spear in the war against terrorism. (Otherwise) we have a dull spear.”
Hoekstra, elected to an eighth term this year with 66.5 percent of the vote, has been mentioned periodically over the years as a candidate for governor or the U.S. Senate. With Sen. Carl Levin, already Michigan’s longest-serving senator (surpassing 1928-51 Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg), announcing that he will seek a sixth term in 2008, it is unlikely that any Republican in Michigan’s delegation will challenge him.
Asked about that possibility on Friday, Hoekstra said: “I don’t see myself on a statewide ballot in two years.” He declined to say that about 2010, when term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm cannot seek re-election. Sen. Debbie Stabenow was elected to a second term this year.
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