Two Michigan senators are trying to goose the Army Corps of Engineers to finish a study of the Brandon Road Lock & Dam outlining options for keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
The study, which began in April 2015, was expected to take several years, but the senators said that was too long and wanted it done this January.
Approaches to keeping the invasive fish at bay could have wide-ranging effects on Great Lakes navigation and trade, a primary concern for workboat industry interests.
“It is unacceptable that the report and study take 46 months to complete,” U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, wrote last month to Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Meanwhile, grass carp — one of four Asian carp species — have been found in lakes Michigan, Erie and Ontario, according to a recent report by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
The Corps considers the lock on the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Ill., at the downstream end of the Chicago waterway system a control point for keeping the menacing fish from entering the lakes. They’re evaluating a range of options from doing nothing to closing the lock while minimizing the adverse impact on users. Industry representatives have questioned the corps’ authority to move ahead and warned about the impact on navigation.
The Brandon Road project is in addition to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) released in January 2014 outlining eight alternatives to stop the spread of the carp. The most drastic choice in the study ordered by Congress would separate the lakes from the Mississippi River basin, cost at least $18.4 billion and take 25 years to complete. The senators said that “it has been noted that construction at Brandon Road is expected to take at least 5 to 10 years after the Chief’s report is completed. This timeline is unfortunate while Asian carp continue to threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem and the economy it supports.”
The issue has pitted states, politicians and businesses against one another. Carp in the Great Lakes would threaten the $7 billion fishing and tourism industries. But severing the waterways would cost the barge, passenger vessel, chemical, agricultural and other groups billions as well.
“Given the importance of the regions’ ecological stability to the national economy and the proximity of Asian carp to the Great Lakes, time is of the essence to finalize this report, making it available to decision makers so that construction can begin as soon as it is authorized by the Congress,” the senators said.
The Corps has installed electronic barriers to stop the fish, but they noted in the GLMRIS report, “an absolute solution guaranteeing the complete prevention of [aquatic nuisance species] transfer may not be feasible or even technologically possible.”
The Corps’ response to the senators “is still under coordination, and we project early 2019 for when a Chief's Report or equivalent is scheduled to be signed,” a spokesman said.