Coast Guard plan to establish weapons training zones raises ire

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Anglers, boaters and environmentalists are up in arms about the Coast Guard's proposal to establish weapons training zones on Lake Erie.
The Coast Guard wants to establish four areas on the lake, as well as 30 other zones on the four other Great Lakes, where they can train using live ammunition. Officials say they need the shooting practice to prepare for maritime threats including terrorism and drug smuggling.
The plan drew so much criticism that the Coast Guard has extended the period for public comment -- which was initially to end Thursday -- until November.
"It's pretty clear that we didn't do a good enough job educating the public," said Robert Lanier, a Coast Guard spokesman. The Coast Guard is also considering holding public hearings.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and other environmental groups voiced concern over the plan and its possible impact on boaters and wildlife.
Commercial fishermen would have a hard time moving their nets for the drills, and recreational anglers and boaters could accidentally wander into the range, the department's Steve Holland wrote in a letter to the Coast Guard.
The zones are all more than 5 miles offshore and drills would only be conducted a few days every year, Lanier said. Exercises would use machine guns mounted on cutters and small boats.
During live-fire operations a small boat would patrol as a safety lookout. Any wayward boats would be escorted from the zone, and firing would stop until the area was cleared, Lanier said.

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