Prov Bay tremors attributed to US live-fire exercises near Alpena, Mich

This toilet in the Auberge Inn in Providence Bay was cracked, reportedly after tremors rocked the area. (2015)

Shocks crack toilet, resident says

PROVIDENCE BAY— When loud explosions shuddered through the ground in Providence Bay recently, townsfolk immediately thought the culprit would be blasting at a local quarry, but the surprising answer came from far further away than a local pit operation.

“I did some research and it seems to have been coming from a live fire ammunition exercise,” said Auberge Inn co-owner Nathalie Gara-Boivin. “Apparently, they were holding the exercises on the Canadian side so that it didn’t disturb the US residents.”

“We were not, to my knowledge, conducting any exercises on the Canadian side,” said Lieutenant Col. William Humes, public affairs officer in Lansing, Michigan for the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. Lt. Col. Humes agreed that it would be highly unlikely that any such exercise would take place without significant public warning and media announcements.

Ms. Gara-Boivin noted that customers coming into the ice cream store operated by Ms. Gara-Boivin and her partner Alain Harvey at the Providence Bay Discovery Centre were asking about it. “Everyone was assuming it was the quarry, but it wasn’t,” said Ms. Gara-Boivin, who had confirmed with the township that the quarry was not blasting.

Ms. Gara-Boivin noted that the loud explosions were taking place all through the week. “They started up 1 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and they lasted all afternoon, ending around 4 pm on Friday,” she said. “Friday was the worst.” The times mentioned by Ms. Gara-Boivin do generally match up with the timing of the exercises.

Ms. Gara-Boivin said that she would be contacting Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes about the matter. “What kind of permissions did they have to get?” she asked. “Why are they doing this on Lake Huron and why on our side?”

The shaking of the ground from the explosions was so intense that Ms. Gara-Boivin’s customers at their Providence Bay hostel came to tell them that their bathroom was flooded. “It had cracked the toilet bowl,” said Ms. Gara-Boivin.

The explosions should not have impacted the Canadian side of Lake Huron the way it has been described, however. The live fire exercises in question involved A-10 attack planes and F-16 fighter bombers firing live ordinance at floating target barges pulled by remote control jet skis. The exercises took place some 20 miles from the American shore of Lake Huron near Alpena, which would place them well within the US side of the border and further from Tobermory and Providence Bay than Alpena, where no notable explosions were heard.

Lt. Col. Humes said that he regretted any inconvenience should it prove to have come from the exercises, but that in his conversations with the base commander in charge of the exercises, the wind would have to be exactly right for the sound to travel that far, let alone the concussion of the ordinance being felt in the ground.

The aircraft from four reservist squadrons in the Great Lakes region were firing on 10-foot square targets pulled by remote-controlled jet skis. The training exercise was called the Pike Live Fire Exercise and was conducted about 20 miles from shore, providing US fighter-bomber pilots a chance to fire on targets in the water. Although he did not specifically rule out the exercises as the source of the explosions felt from Tobermory to Providence Bay, Lt. Col. Humes said that “based on the imagery I have seen, the rounds were to be far enough away as to not be heard. But I won’t argue that it doesn’t make sense.”

Lt. Col. Humes confirmed that the ordnance exploded on Wednesday between 1:10 pm and 3:30 pm and then again on Thursday between 2:45 pm and 4 pm, as well as Friday from approximately 11:10 am to around 3 pm. “So if those times align with what your readers are reporting, then the tremors felt are most likely a result of the Air Force ordinance,” Lt. Col. Humes said.

The reported distance of the live fire exercises from the US shore of Lake Huron was 20 miles, which would place it almost three times that far from the Canadian side. A spokesperson at the combat centre noted that the size and type of ordinance that were used in the exercises should not have produced the kind of sounds and earth shaking reported by Providence Bay and Tobermory residents.

“I have a lot of questions,” said Ms. Gara-Boivin. “If we can feel them all the way here, what kind of impact is that having on the lake, the fish? It felt like the blasts were coming from under the ground. It is a little nerve wracking to say the least.” Ms. Gara-Boivin said that the sounds and shaking were similar to the blasting she felt while living in Sudbury.