Amid calls to reopen Grand Marais Coast Guard station, Cook County forms unprecedented marine units

Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 10:26 PM CDT
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GRAND MARAIS, MN. (Northern News Now) - Last summer, Northern News Now aired a special report on the Coast Guard’s decision to permanently close its station in Grand Marais.

It closed for good on Labor Day 2022.
It closed for good on Labor Day 2022.(kbjr)

The Coast Guard cited budget concerns and a station that’s not frequently needed for rescues.

The move sparked backlash from residents and law enforcement, who said the closure would make the shore far less safe.

Still, it closed for good on Labor Day 2022.

Last weekend, two teenagers drowned in the water off Silver Bay.

A tragedy that has lawmakers and first responders calling for the Coast Guard to reverse course, and some groups taking action on their own.

On June 25, Austin Henning and Max Williams, both from the Twin Cities, stood little chance of survival when they cliff-jumped into the 41 degree water of Lake Superior.

Local emergency crews responded, as did a rescue boat from Coast Guard Station Bayfield, and an aircraft from Coast Guard Station Traverse City in Michigan.

“Anytime there’s a search and rescue case, you treat that person like they’re a member of your own family,” said Lt. Phillip Gurtler, a Public Affairs Officer for the Great Lakes region.

Gurtler says decisions are made quickly when an emergency call comes in.

“We receive the notification, our command center folks look at the incident and which unit can respond quickest,” said Lt. Gurtler.

Until last fall that likely would’ve been Grand Marais, but that station’s former territory is now divided between Coast Guard Stations Bayfield and Duluth.

The Coast Guard station closed Labor Day 2022.
The Coast Guard station closed Labor Day 2022.(kbjr)

Something northern Minnesota State Senator Grant Hauschild says is wrong.

“Now that we see what happens when we don’t have a Coast Guard along the North Shore, my hope is that the Coast Guard may reconsider,” said Sen. Hauschild.

He’s sending a letter to the Coast Guard, calling for the old Station North Superior to reopen.

That’s after already allocating state money for remaining responders up the shore, to help step up in the Guard’s absence.

“$3 million dollars in emergency equipment for Cook County and Grand Portage, so they could get the equipment they needed and hire the staff they need to respond to these sorts of things,” said Hauschild.

Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen will be a benefactor of that investment. And he’s using that money to take action.

“We are actually in the process now of developing a marine unit for the Sheriff’s Office, and we are working in partnership with the Grand Portage Tribal Government to establish not only one in Grand Marais, but one in Grand Portage as well,” said Eliasen.

The law enforcement-tribal team-up is the first-of-its-kind in the United States, as they join forces to fill a void left by a government agency.

“We want them to be as good as we can get them through the Coast Guard training, for boating vessels and for doing rescues and things like that,” said Eliasen.

“We shouldn’t have a response from Michigan or Wisconsin responding to our needs here,” said Sen. Hauschild.

““We are going to do what we can to fill the gaps ourselves,” said Eliasen.

At last check, Senator Hauschild hadn’t heard back from the Coast Guard on his request to reopen the station in Grand Marais.

As for the timeline for those two marine units up the shore becoming reality, Sheriff Eliasen says he’s pushing for training to begin soon, but no word yet on any dates.

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