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Coast Guard kills live-fire training plan Internal review, public input lead to decision to cancel zones in Great Lakes

The U.S. Coast Guard has canceled plans for 34 live-fire training zones in the Great Lakes, including a zone that had been proposed in Western New York on Lake Ontario.

The zones would have been used two to three times a year for live-ammunition training with machine guns. Boating traffic would have been restricted during the training, which had rankled charter captains, tourism-related business owners and anglers.

Three zones had been proposed for Lake Ontario, including a 33-square-mile training site between Youngstown and Wilson, about five miles offshore.

Lake Erie zones were proposed for the Cleveland area, but not off Buffalo.

The decision to withdraw current plans came Monday from U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Cleveland, following an internal review, public meetings and comments from the public and elected officials.

Though the current proposal is dead, plans will be reworked, according to Rear Adm. John E. Crowley Jr., commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, applauded the decision, and said local concerns were brought to Coast Guard officials at a public meeting in Rochester on Oct. 30.
"We want to secure our coast in a way that preserves recreational activities like boating and fishing, and it is encouraging to know that the Coast Guard understands that and listened to the concerns of local citizens," Slaughter said in a prepared statement following the announcement.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, also had asked for reconsideration in establishing the training zones.

He told Coast Guard officials and the media, "I understand the need for the Coast Guard to be fully trained, but we have to ask the question -- is the Youngstown-Olcott area, where the boating community is particularly active, the right place to be conducting live fire exercises with boat-mounted machine guns?"

Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said his town, which includes the port of Olcott, was close enough to be concerned about the proposal.

"I didn't like it and didn't see anything good about it," Horanburg said.
Wilson Supervisor Joseph A. Jastrzemski said he was "very pleased" that the plans had been withdrawn.

"At least they're listening and possibly they can come up with a better alternative," Jastrzemski said. "We do understand the need to be trained, but we don't know if they have to use live ammunition and why they chose [to locate a zone] in such a high tourism area."

Village of Youngstown Mayor Neil Riordan was more circumspect. He said the Coast Guard base at Fort Niagara is part of the community and has been a good neighbor.

"There were a lot of mayors in Canada that spoke out, but I did not speak out against this," Riordan said. "The Coast Guard has done a great job keeping our coast safe. I have been supportive of our Coast Guard here and have so much trust in them."

He said negative comments have come from area charter boat captains and the Youngstown Yacht Club.

He said the negative press started when some residents found out the Coast Guard had already conducted some training without informing the public, and more concerns surfaced after the Coast Guard drew up the zones without community input.

"You can't sell it after it's been done, there's no question about that," Riordan said.

Crowley said in a prepared statement that the Coast Guard will work with the public to ensure that the Guard can meet any threat to public safety or security, and remains committed to addressing concerns that training be safe.

"As a native son of the region, I take the Coast Guard's role as guardians of the Great Lakes very seriously," Crowley said. "The Great Lakes are one of the nation's most precious resources. The current [proposal] 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."

He added, "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."

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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