From: David N. Goodman, Associated Press
Published October 11, 2006 12:00 AM

Coast Guard Defends Plan for Live Fire Exercises at Great Lakes

DETROIT -- The U.S. Coast Guard's proposal to periodically close 2,500 square miles (6,400 square kilometers) of the Great Lakes for live machine-gun firing exercises is vital to maintaining its ability to protect America, commanders said Tuesday.

The proposal has drawn criticism from U.S. and Canadian mayors, business leaders and environmentalists from across the region.

The agency says the exercises incorporate years of experience of safely conducting live-fire tests in the nation's coastal waters and are designed to have minimal effect on the environment and Great Lakes traffic.

The Coast Guard is holding seven public hearings from Monday through Nov. 3 on the plan, and a public comment period extends through Nov. 13.

The training zone proposal follows the Coast Guard's decision to mount automatic weapons on about 150 Great Lakes vessels as it did earlier with vessels on the East, West and Gulf coasts, said Capt. Patrick W. Brennan, commander of the Coast Guard's Detroit sector.

Live fire practice is an important part of weapons training, Brennan said at a media briefing Tuesday at the agency's headquarters on the Detroit River.

"We need to train in the environment in which we are going to fire the weapons," he said.

Each of the 34 zones on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario would be closed to private vessels for four-hour spans about four to eight times a year, he said.

Source: Associated Press

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