Folks in Louisiana have a way of putting the Asian carp issue in perspective while panning the Corps of Engineers most drastic option for stopping invasive species from traveling between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.
One of eight alternatives outlined by the Corps in its recent Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) would separate the two waterway systems joined more than a century ago. The project would cost $18.4 billion and take 25 years to complete.
“For $18 billion you could build six Olmsted Locks and Dam,” said Spencer Murphy, vice president, risk management, Canal Barge, New Orleans, referring to the $3 billion Ohio River project that’s almost 20 years behind schedule and billions over budget.
Murphy, one of the speakers at a public meeting Friday in New Orleans to discuss the contents of the report, summed up the feelings of many in the industry when he said separation is “unnecessary, impractical if not impossible, and will cause more harm than good.”
It’s impractical “because it will require replumbing the entire city of Chicago,” he said. “Separation offers no guarantee of success. We need to focus on non-structural solutions.”
What’s more, Murphy said, “In Louisiana, too many fish in the water is not considered a problem. It is considered an opportunity.” Chef Paul Prudhomme, for instance, almost killed off redfish with one recipe.
The debate over the voracious carp and other invasive species has pitted Midwest states and marine, fishing and other industries against one another in and out of court and Congress for several years. The fish threaten the Great Lakes $7 billion fishing and tourism industries, but severing the waterways and lock closures would threaten barge movement of billions of dollars worth of goods and cause widespread economic damage.
It’s not just Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the barge industry that would be affected but the entire lower half of the country where “everything that touches a river system is affected by this,” Capt. Matthew LaGarde told the hearing.
The Corps has installed electronic barriers to stop the fish, but the fish can get past the barriers, according to a recent study by the corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential impacts of barge tows crossing the barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC).
The GLMRIS report submitted to Congress in January doesn’t make recommendations or emphasize one option over another. It also was noted at the hearing that humans — or birds — carrying the fish from one area to another, could undo the investment in infrastructure.
Almost everyone who spoke opposed separating the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes saying that solution would be not only an economic but also an environmental disaster. The barge industry promotes itself as the most environmentally friendly means of transportation, and if marine commerce were halted between the waterways, more trucks would clog the highways. Speakers ranged from officials of the American Waterways Operators, Ingram Barge, Blessey Marine Services and American Commercial Lines, to DeLoach Marine Services, the Big River Coalition and the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association.
One speaker who favored the separation was Toby Barrett, a member of the Canadian parliament from the north shore of Lake Erie. Last year an Asian carp was caught in the Grand River near the lake, but it was sterile. Nevertheless, “it really caused quite a stir,” he said, citing potential harm to fishing, boating and other marine interests. Barrett also noted the province of Ontario has banned the transport of live carp.
The last two of 11 public meetings are scheduled for Feb. 11 in Portage, Ind., and Feb. 13 in Buffalo, N.Y. Comments will be accepted until March 31.