Two helicopter mechanics carry a rotor blade to mount on an HH-65 “Dolphin” helicopter at Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, Michigan.

Two helicopter mechanics carry a rotor blade to mount on an HH-65 “Dolphin” helicopter at Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, Michigan. (Harry C. Craft III/U.S. Coast Guard)

(Tribune News Service) — Michigan has been chosen as the site of a new Coast Guard National Center of Expertise that will study the impact of freshwater oil spills with the aim of improving effective emergency responses.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters announced that the center will be located at two sites within Michigan: Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, where its supervisor would be located, and another site at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

Peters worked to designate $4.5 million in federal funding, including $3 million in the year-end spending package last year for the center after getting a bill passed to establish it. Former President Donald Trump signed the legislation in 2018.

The legislation followed a hearing in 2017 where the then-commandant of the Coast Guard told Peters that the agency was not prepared for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, as existing technologies for responding to oil spills are designed for salt-water environments.

Peters’ legislative language directed the center to be located at an institution that has aquatic research facilities and expertise in Great Lakes ecology. It also had to be near “critical” crude oil pipeline infrastructure “on and connecting the Great Lakes” such as submerged pipelines.

The center is expected to focus on scientific or technological gaps in responses to past freshwater oil spills and will be tasked with testing, developing and researching equipment and techniques for responding to oil spills in the Great Lakes and training first responders.

“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.”

Lake Superior State University President Rodney Hanley said the designation of the university as the center’s new “hub” will provide “real-world, hands-on” teaching and learning for students, faculty, and staff and will underwrite several research positions at the $14 million Richard and Theresa Barch Center for Freshwater Research and Education facility, which is set to open by the end of the year.

(c)2021 The Detroit News

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