MICHIGAN-BASED – It was recently announced that the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) National Center of Expertise (NCOE) for the Great Lakes will be headquartered in Michigan. The NCOE will formalize a partnership between the USCG and Lake Superior State University (LSSU), for which LSSU will serve as the hub of the Great Lakes NCOE and home to its supervisor, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is applauding the location selection of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) National Center of Expertise (NCOE) for the Great Lakes. It will be headquartered in Michigan, after Peters successfully secured $4.5 million for the initiative and passed legislation into law establishing the Great Lakes NCOE in 2018.

To maximize research and operational capabilities, the Great Lakes NCOE, created by Peters, will formalize a partnership between Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie – which will serve as the hub of the Great Lakes NCOE and home to its supervisor, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor – and the USCG.

According to Peters, the Great Lakes NCOE will examine the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments and help develop effective responses. This work will be critical in protecting the Great Lakes, as current oil spill response technologies are primarily designed for saltwater environments.

“The Great Lakes are more than just an economic engine and ecological treasure: they are simply in our DNA as Michiganders. An oil spill in the Great Lakes would be catastrophic for Michigan and the country – that’s why we must do everything possible to protect them for future generations and improve our preparedness,” said Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“I worked to establish the Center of Expertise to better prepare against any potential oil spill in freshwater environments, and I’m pleased that it will be based in Michigan,” he stated. “The Center of Expertise will lead the way on the research and testing of freshwater oil spill response technology and I will continue working to ensure we have the resources to help keep the Great Lakes safe from disaster.”

“Lake Superior State University is honored for many important reasons to be chosen as the hub for the U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes and as the home to its supervisor,” said LSSU President Dr. Rodney S. Hanley.

“Since we’re situated by three Great Lakes, ecological stewardship is one of our core values. Also, environmental sustainability, community partnerships, and governmental alliances are touchstones of our strategic plan,” he continued.

“This opportunity will provide important real-world, hands-on teaching and learning for students, faculty, and staff in our School of Natural Resources and Environment and, as importantly, underwrite several research positions at our cutting-edge $14 million Richard and Theresa Barch Center for Freshwater Research and Education facility, scheduled to open toward the end of this year,” Hanley shared.

“And this collaboration furthers the longstanding relationship that LSSU, founded on the site of a former military base, has with the area Coast Guard. Most of all, this effort not only leverages but also expands part of LSSU’s mission to enhance the quality of life of the Great Lakes region,” he stated. “We thank Senator Peters for his leadership and work to pass the Center of Expertise into law.”

Hanley and Peters held a Zoom press call on Oct. 19 to announce that the Great Lakes NCOE will be headquartered in the state, with another location at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

“We are thrilled that LSSU’s new Center for Freshwater Research and Education has been selected to host the Great Lakes NCOE,” said the center’s director, Dr. Ashley Moerke. “It will play an important role in building research capacity and response preparedness in a unique region of the Great Lakes with critical infrastructure and ecological systems, and we are looking forward to supporting this important initiative.”

Feedback was also given by Adm. Karl Schultz, Commandant of the USCG. “The Coast Guard is proud to partner with Lake Superior State University and NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory to further research into detecting and responding to oil releases in the Great Lakes, and protecting the largest fresh surface water system in the world,” he said.

Sharing remarks on the announcement, as well, was NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “We are excited to hear about the plans for the new U.S. Coast Guard Center of Expertise for Oil Spill Response and Research, and Senator Peters was instrumental in making this Center a reality,” Spinrad stated. “Co-locating Coast Guard staff at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory facility in Ann Arbor will enhance collaboration and foster real progress for a more prepared Great Lakes region.”

Among others, the NCOE will focus on different aspects of the USCG’s marine safety mission, including liquefied natural gas transport, the outer continental shelf, towing vessels and investigations.

Along with other issues, the Coast Guard NCOE for the Great Lakes is responsible for:

• Identifying gaps in Great Lakes oil spill research, including providing assessments of major scientific or technological deficiencies in responses to past spills in the Great Lakes and other freshwater bodies — and seeking to fill those gaps — as well as monitoring and assessing the current state of knowledge regarding freshwater oil spill response technologies.

• Conducting research, development, testing and evaluation for freshwater oil spill response equipment, technologies and techniques to mitigate and respond to oil spills in the Great Lakes.

• Helping train first responders on the federal, state and local level on the incident command structure system and response technologies and strategies.

• Working with academic and the private sector to develop and standardize maritime oil spill response training.

In 2017, the then-Commandant of the USCG told Peters at a hearing that the agency was not prepared for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, saying that more science and research was needed.

A press release from Peters reads that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USCG was forced to delay a decision on site location and formal establishment of the NCOE. However, a location was now able to be determined as a direct result of significant support from Peters.

He adds that he has made protecting the Great Lakes one of his top priorities in the U.S. Senate. In 2019, Peters secured a bipartisan provision which was signed into law as part of the year-end funding bill to provide the first increase in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding since the program was established a decade ago.

To build on that progress, Peters supported the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, which included $1 billion for the GLRI – a historic investment and the largest amount of funding provided for the program to date.

Further, Peters’ bipartisan bill to update the Environmental Sensitivity Maps for the Great Lakes was signed into law early this year. He advises that these new maps will provide more accurate assessments of coastal resources that are at risk of severe damage or a natural disaster, including endangered and threatened species, sensitive shoreline habitats and widely used community resources, such as beaches, parks and boat ramps.

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