Report proposes steps to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

A bighead carp, front, a species of the Asian carp, swims in an exhibit that highlights plants and animals that eat or compete with Great Lakes native species, Jan. 5, 2006, at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — 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.

>>PDF: Asian carp report 

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, is among the leaders in the bipartisan effort to get the information released.

“This has been painfully slow, actually, just to get the study done with the report on economically what this is going to cost and what makes sense has taken much longer than I would have liked,” Stabenow said. “The only good news at this point is all the focus we’ve put on the Great Lakes and the money we’ve used through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to do temporary things has actually worked so far and has actually pushed the fish back a bit.”

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.

A map shows key features suggested by a report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep out Asian carp.

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 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.”

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.”

When asked by 24 Hour News 8 if the recommendations seemed plausible, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, replied, “Well, we’re going to find that out.”

“The first step was working in a bipartisan fashion to get this report out,” Huizenga continued. “It has been slow-walked by the last administration. This administration was studying it and to their credit, I’m glad we were able to push it out and get it out there to find out what exactly were the options they were even looking at.”

Huizenga said he and his colleagues will study the plan. He noted it is also imperative to make sure the impact of the Great Lakes is not lost on the Washington bureaucracy.

“There is not enough of an understanding of the Great Lakes, the ecological or the economic impact on the country and frankly the world economy,” he said. “That’s one of the things I work with (U.S. Rep.) Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and others on the other side of the aisle to do, is to spread that word to make sure that whether it’s Republican or Democrat administrations that they understand the impact that the Great Lakes have.”

–24 Hour News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.