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U.S. Coast Guard Gunfire Exercises in the Great Lakes

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UPDATE -- Good News!

The Ninth Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office has announced that the Great Lakes Live-Fire Proposal was withdrawn. The text of the press release follows:

Date: December 18, 2006

Contact: Ninth Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office
(216) 902-6020


CLEVELAND - The U.S. Coast Guard announced today its decision to withdraw the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish 34 safety zones for live-fire training on the Great Lakes. The decision follows internal review, meetings with many community leaders, as well as nine public meetings, and numerous comments from the public and their elected representatives.

"The Coast Guard appreciates the thoughtful comments we received and we will work with the public to ensure the Coast Guard can meet any threat to public safety or security. We are committed to addressing the concerns that training be safe, preserve the diverse uses of the Lakes, and protect the environment," said Rear Adm. John E. Crowley, Jr., commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District.

"As a native son of the region I take the Coast Guard's role as guardians of the Great Lakes very seriously. The Great Lakes are one of the nation's most precious resources. The current NPRM is unsatisfactory and I will take the time to get this right. We will not conduct live-fire training on the Great Lakes to satisfy non-emergency training requirements unless we publish a rule, and I intend to reconsider the number, frequency of use, and location of water training areas as well as other concerns raised by the public. I am also committed to pursuing environmentally-friendly alternatives to the lead ammunition we currently use."

Previously posted information on this issue:
The U.S. Coast Guard, Ninth District, is proposing to establish 34 live fire "safety zones" throughout all 5 Great Lakes, covering more than 2,300 square miles of Great Lakes waters. Within these proposed zones, several times a year Coast Guard personnel would conduct live fire training exercises, with rounds fired from lightweight automatic weapons.

According to the plan, the public would be warned of these training exercises through broadcasts on marine band radio, and an "observer" would be employed to monitor the safety zone.

Lead from ammunnition will enter the Great Lakes, and it is a well known fact that there is no level of lead contamination that is safe for humans or wildlife. Lead is a persistent toxic substance; the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement calls for zero discharge of persistent toxic substances. Therefore, this plan is in direct violation of an international agreement between the United States and Canada.

While national security is important, it seems a better use of our national resources to send Coast Guard personnel to designated military training areas where live fire already occurs. There are too many environmental and safety risks in this plan. Not all boaters listen to the marine band radio every time they head out onto the water -- small boaters may not even have a marine band radio. And miscommunications between the U.S. and Canada have already been documented in previous safety issues. There is no room for error in this plan. The Great Lakes, which hold the world's largest supply of fresh water, should not be a firing range.

Public comment on this plan is open until November 13, 2006. Please send your comments, and also write your representatives in local, state, and federal government.
(Scroll down to the end of this page to see the comments we submitted.)


The US Coast Guard has announced that they will be holding public meetings on the issue.
The dates and locations are:

October 16: Duluth, MN
October 18: Grand Haven, MI
October 19: Port Huron/Marysville, MI
October 23: Cleveland, OH

The USCG has also started a webpage on the issue:



Following is detailed information on this issue from Great Lakes United:


U.S. Coast Guard Proposes Using Great Lakes as FiringRange
Gunfire Exercises Endanger Public and the Environment

Comment by November 13, 2006

The United States Coast Guard, Ninth District, is proposing to conduct live fire training throughout the Great Lakes. Great Lakes United has serious concerns that gunfire exercises on the Great Lakes will put the safety of the public and the environment at risk, and urges comment into this serious issue. Please note: this alert does not question whether Coast Guard personnel should be trained to handle weapons, rather whether significant portions of the Great Lakes should be designated for live fire military training.


The Ninth Coast Guard District is proposing the establishment of 34 live fire safety zones throughout the Great Lakes, covering a combined total of 2,376 square miles or 2.5% of the Lakes surface area. The safety zones will be used to train Coast Guard personnel in maritime law enforcement, national defense and homeland security using live 7.62mm NATO rounds fired from lightweight automatic weapons. The proposed zones would be permanent, and at this time are proposed for use “a few times in a calendar year… with each exercise lasting approximately 4-6 hours”. The Coast Guard plans to alert the public in advance of all live gunfire exercises through broadcasts on a marine band radio channel which is used for distress, weather updates and marine information; they will also employ an observer to monitor the safety zone throughout the exercise. The Coast Guard also states that two independent environmental consulting companies have determined that the use of live weapons on the Great Lakes will present “no elevated risk to humans or the environment”.

You can view maps identifying the location of the live fire safety zones:
4 zones in Lake Erie at:
3 zones in LakeOntario at:
7 zones in Lake Superior at:
6 zones in Lake Huron at:
7 zones in upper Lake Michigan at:
7 zones in lower Lake Michigan at:


Though the Coast Guard ensures that the public will be alerted during such training exercises, and that there is no elevated environmental risk, Great Lakes United has the following serious concerns:

Live fire safety concerns:

·Communicating with boaters who do not monitor the maritime channel before their voyage.

·Communicating with Canadian boaters who may be moving across the international border.

·Communicating with boaters in vessels without radios or motors.

·Boaters without GPS/location devices risk being unable to locate and avoid the live fire zones.

·Because altitude requirements over water could allow aircraft close proximity to live fire operations, communication with the Federal Aviation Administration is necessary.

·Unspent ammunition washing up on shore risks the safety of beach goers.

·Are there locations within the proposed safety zones that that experience high volume recreational use or are there shore-side chemical facilities, nuclear power plants near the safety zones? Could a 7.63mm round reach the shoreline under specific conditions?

Environmental and economic concerns:

·The Great Lakes already suffer from high levels of pollution. Lead from ammunition will enter the water. Despite the Coast Guard’s environmental consulting reports, its common knowledge that there is no quantity of exposure to lead that is deemed safe for humans or wildlife.

·Is there a risk of undermining the desirability of the Great Lakes as a recreational and boating destination due to the use of the Lakes for military training?

While training Coast Guard personnel is necessary, live fire on the Great Lakes present serious risks to the public and to the environment. Live fire exercises should not be practiced on the Lakes. Send Ninth District Coast Guard personnel to designated military training areas where live fire already occurs. Don’t bring the firing range to the Lakes.

How to comment/ More information:

You can access the Federal Register posting, maps, and more information on the Coast Guard’s website at:

A press release is at:

Please comment to this precedent-setting proposal. Send in your comments by November 13, 2006 by:

·E-mail through the Docket Management System website: Docket number 25767.

·Fax to the Docket Management Facility at (202) 493-2251.

·Mail to the Docket Management Facility (USCG-2006-2567), U.S. Department of Transportation, Room PL-401, 400 SW, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001.

·Please also send a copy of your letter to your federal, state, and local politicians.

Why is Great Lakes United concerned about failed communications?

The U.S. and Canada have had a long history of collaboration and largely successful communications across both domestic and international borders in the Great Lakes region. However, we have seen on numerous occasions that communications can fail. When dealing with live gunfire, there is no room for even a single communications failure. Just a few examples of serious and potentially life-threatening failed communications that come to mind:

·A string of chemical manufacturing plants lines the Canadian-side of the St. Clair River south of Sarnia and Port Huron. Despite the presence of an elaborate communications protocol, the system failed three times between August 2003 and March 2004 when toxics were spilled from companies into the river. In each case, downstream municipalities on the U. S. side heard about the spills through the news media instead of through the formal channels that were supposed to warn them to close down their drinking water intakes.

·On the evening of March 13, 2003 a group of snowmobilers in Clayton, NY raced out into the path of the Canadian icebreaker Simcoe, forcing it to halt its effort to open the St. Lawrence Seaway. Unlike most years, local communities were not warned that the icebreaker was coming though. Unaware of the icebreaker’s activities, islanders heading to the mainland after nightfall could have attempted travel across the open water resulting in tragic consequences. The U.S. St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation said that while it announces when it will perform ice-breaking tasks, other agencies need to make public announcements for their own ice-breaking activities. The Canadian Coast Guard initially indicated that it was not responsible for informing the United States of its activities and then attributed the failure in communication, in part, from the lack of experience communicating with people who are not mariners.

Jennifer Nalbone
Campaign Director, Great Lakes United
(716) 213-0408; web:
Great Lakes United staff represented by UAW Local 55




For more maps of the proposed firing ranges:


Public Comment Submitted by John and Ann Mahan:

We strongly object to the U.S. Coast Guard conducting live ammunition training drills on the Great Lakes on the basis of both water safety issues and pollution risks. For more than 25 years, we have specialized in the Great Lakes as writers and photographers and have done 3 books on the Great Lakes. We have spent a great deal of time on the water in a variety of craft, and are familiar with issues facing these lakes. Over the years we have watched lead come under increasing scrutiny as a persistent toxic substance, be removed from products, and banned from birdshot because of its dangers to life in the system.

The live ammunition is lead-based and will introduce a persistent toxic substance into the lakes. This is in direct contradiction to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement -- an international agreement between the United States and Canada -- which calls for zero discharge of persistent toxic chemicals. While public health officials try to track down sources of lead poisoning in our children, the U.S. Coast Guard should not be introducing lead into waters that comprise 20 per cent of the world's supply of freshwater.

The Coast Guard plans to warn boaters of the training exercises by VHF radio announcements, but we know that not all boaters (especially small boaters and paddlers) have VHF radios, and boaters do not always listen to them before venturing out on brief trips, or have them on all the time. The assumption that these warnings will keep people safe is just that: an assumption. Recreational boaters should not have to watch out for live-fire on these lakes, to be constantly on guard against being shot by our own government. How ironic that boaters on the Great Lakes may be at greater risk of being harmed by the Coast Guard than by terrorists. It is a valid question as to whether or not large caliber machine guns on a few Coast Guard boats is any effective deterrent or protection against terrorists.

These exercises are being touted as necessary to protect the public, but putting lead into the world's largest freshwater drinking supply and risking injury to boaters is not protecting us. The Great Lakes support a population of more than 33 million people in two countries. What will the future health costs be when increased lead is introduced into the Great Lakes? What will the cleanup costs be? There is no question that defense is important, but the U.S. Coast Guard should go to existing non-freshwater training bases for live-fire training exercises.