A federal report released Monday proposes a $275 million array of technological and structural upgrades at a crucial site in Illinois to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and its vulnerable fish populations.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined its tentative plan in a report that had been scheduled for release in February but was delayed by the Trump administration, drawing criticism from members of Congress and environmental groups.
It analyzes options for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a complex on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago that is considered a bottleneck where defenses could be strengthened to prevent carp populations in the Mississippi River watershed from migrating into Lake Michigan.
Scientists say if the large, voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could devastate the region's $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.
"The Asian carp thing is huge. I mean, it effects everybody from recreational to fishermen," said Eric Long, charter captain.
Long is skilled at capturing salmon, walleye and other fish in the Great Lakes. He has heard horror stories about what invasive species like Asian carp have done to waterways in the south.
"In some of the lakes and river ways they're like combat fishing or combat boating. I mean, people are getting knocked out and you just never know. They're actually very dangerous," Long said.
There have been some sightings, but local fishermen haven't had to deal with the nuisance fish yet, which experts say has the potential to devastate the Great Lakes' multi-billion dollar fishing industry.
"I mean, there's Asian carp found in Lake Michigan. So you know, hopefully they don't spread," Long said.
The Army corps said the plan outlined in the 488-page document is intended to block the path of invasive species "while minimizing impacts to waterway uses and users." Elected officials and business leaders in Illinois and Indiana have said that significant changes to the Brandon Road complex could hamper cargo shipment on the busy waterway.
Among technologies the report endorses is using sound systems to create "complex noise" underwater that would deter fish from the Brandon Road area, plus installing a new approach channel and placing an electric barrier at its downstream end that would repel fish and stun them if they get too close. Brandon Road is several miles downstream from an existing barrier network.
Other measures would include installing water jets to wash away "small and stunned fish" that might be caught up around barges, plus a new lock where floating invasive species could be flushed away.
The report says the federal government would pay 65 percent of the costs project's costs, with the rest coming from a "non-federal sponsor."
Bait shop owner Mark Malvich said invasive species could be a problem for smaller lakes as well.
"They can be transferred to the local lakes here through boats and stuff like that. So we all have to be a little more conscious," Malvich said.
Malvich encourages boaters to be vigilant and properly wash down boats that come from the Great Lakes before entering local lakes. He hopes government officials and lawmakers move swiftly to put measures in place that prevent Asian carp from harming the Great Lakes system.
"We're not going to get a second chance if something happens. I know that," Malvich said.
The corps will take public comments on the report until Sept. 21. After a feasibility study and series of federal and state reviews, a final report is scheduled for release in August 2019. Congressional approval and funding would be required to get construction underway.
"The Army Corps report makes clear that it's time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. "The ecological and economic costs of further delays are not sensible or acceptable."
Congressman John Moolenaar released the following statement on the report:
"Asian carp recently found less than ten miles from Lake Michigan, this report reflects the urgent need for action to protect the Great Lakes. I fought for this report draft to be released to the public and I look forward to fully reviewing it. I will continue to hold the Corps accountable in the effort to stop Asian carp and I urge Michigan residents to use the public comment period to voice their opinions on the draft report's recommendations."
Congressman Paul Mitchell released the following statement:
After repeated calls on the Army Corps to end the delays, I am pleased that the Corps has released the Brandon Road Study today. This long overdue report is an essential step toward finding a long-term solution to protect our Lakes from Asian carp, and preserve the Lakes for future generations to enjoy. As we evaluate the findings in the report, I will seek input from stakeholders and experts to determine the best course of action, and I encourage all interested to take advantage of the public comment period.
Gov. Rick Snyder released this statement:
The release of the Army Corps of Engineers plan for Brandon Road Lock and Dam marks a critically important step forward in the fight to protect our Great Lakes from invasive carp. The plan lays out important steps that must be taken to stop the relentless advance of silver and bighead carp toward Lake Michigan. It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces – and all who care about the lakes -- to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp. These harmful invaders are advancing toward the Great Lakes at an alarming rate and we cannot wait any longer to take immediate, decisive action.
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow released this statement:
After news that a live silver carp was found only nine miles from Lake Michigan, the Administration has finally released this critical study. It is encouraging that the Army Corps is considering concrete actions to stop the carp from entering our Great Lakes. It’s urgent that we move as quickly as possible to get permanent solutions in place.
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