Brandon Road Lock & Dam, on the Des Plaines River near Joliet, Ill., is the newest front in the battle over the invasive Asian carp.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed evaluating a range of options — from doing nothing to closing the lock — to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. 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 Brandon Road site has elements of a number of the GLMRIS alternatives,” said Dave Wethington, GLMRIS project manager for the Corps. “What we’re seeking to do is focus in on one of the control points at the downstream end of the Chicago waterway system.”

They’ll do engineering and economic analyses as well as consider the available technologies, the risks to existing users and the cost, he said. The goals of the study, expected to take three years, are to prevent the transfer of aquatic nuisance species and minimize adverse impact to users.

“We don’t like Asian carp any more than anyone else does,” Matt Woodruff, director of government affairs, Kirby Corp., Houston, said at a Corps meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 8. “What we’re in support of is navigation and finding a way to control nuisance species” without impeding navigation.

“It looks to me that this option is being artificially moved forward as a means to quell some concern that perhaps the Corps isn’t doing anything, when we know that is not factual,” Paul Rohde, a St. Louis-based vice president for the Waterways Council Inc., said at the meeting. “I’d encourage you to avoid any pressure to do something now.”

Two states that have the most trade between them are Illinois and Louisiana, said Frank Morton, director, Turn Services Inc., New Orleans, and chairman of the American Waterways Operators (AWO)

 “I want to caution you against unintended consequences,” he said. “The Corps cannot move ahead without additional congressional authorization. WRRDA 2014 [Water Resources Reform and Development Act] lays out a very precise way to evaluate and prioritize projects. Why is this project outside of that process?”

“The Corps does not have the authority to move forward on any one of the eight alternatives identified in GLMRIS,” said Spencer Murphy, general counsel, Canal Barge Co., New Orleans. And they don’t have the authority to piecemeal together any of the alternatives.

Wethington said the GLMRIS report, “is its own entity. We heard a lot of interest in some of these potential options. We also identified the Brandon Road site in GLMRIS as a place to advance risk reduction. So the decision was made to do an analysis as a follow-on next step.”

The Corps has installed electronic barriers to stop the fish, but as they said in the GLMRIS report, “an absolute solution guaranteeing the complete prevention of [aquatic nuisance species] transfer may not be feasible or even technologically possible.”