US Coast Guard to Abandon Plans for Live-Fire Training on the Great Lakes

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it had withdrawn the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish 34 safety zones for live-fire training on the Great Lakes. A Coast Guard Press Release said, “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 move is in response to widespread complaints ranging from safety issues to the potential harm that the lead ammunition might do the environment.

Criticism came from a wide array of sources, including environmentalists and the mayors of about 80 Great Lakes municipalities. And, while the Coast Guard's regional commander has characterized the original plan unsatisfactory, he did not rule out new proposals for live-fire zones in the future.

The Coast Guard has previously described the training as important to a post-9/11 mission of protecting the United States from terrorists infiltrating from Canada. But, Monday’s Coast Guard press release also said that they were “committed to pursuing environmentally-friendly alternatives to the lead ammunition we currently use." A total of 24 live-fire training exercises were conducted earlier this year in the Great Lakes, but the program was discontinued in September because of the public outcry.

Although the now-suspended, controversial live-fire drills were characterized this fall by Canadian officials as a violation of a 90-year old treaty between the two countries, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, disagreed. Allen met in September with the head of the Canadian Coast Guard and asserted that the weapons and training is necessary and that there was a need to increase border security on the lakes in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Eventually, though, the practice was temporarily suspended while the policy was examined and a public comment period was underway. During the public comment period, the Coast Guard scheduled four public meetings on its proposal.