WASHINGTON - A plan tentatively recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers to help keep Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan would cost $275 million, with no guarantee the invasive species of fish still wouldn't populate the Great Lakes.
As the Free Press first reported Friday, the Army Corps released a study today recommending a proposal for blocking the advance of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes at a key choke-point along the Des Plaines River in Illinois with underwater sound, electric barriers and other measures.
But it wasn't until the report was made public this morning that the cost of such a proposal became clear -- $275.3 million plus annual costs for maintaining and operating it of nearly $20 million a year.
Of all the options considered by the Army Corps for blocking the advance of Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Ill., the tentatively selected plan using noise to block the fish, along with an electric dispersal barrier, water jets, a flushing navigation lock and more was the most expensive.
The plan, however, doesn't guarantee success: The Army Corps estimated the species known as Asian carp would still have a 10%-17% probability of becoming established in the Great Lakes -- down from 22%-36% if no action was taken.
The Corps estimated that closing the navigation lock altogether would have the greatest likelihood of stopping bighead carp and silver carp -- the two invasive species that are known as Asian carp -- from reaching Lake Michigan, bringing the probability down to 1%-3%. But the cost to inland shippers and the companies they serve would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars with some shippers going out of business.
Environmentalists, who had been agitating for the report's release along with legislators from across the Upper Midwest since late February, said they would pour over its proposals to determine what should happen next.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must listen carefully to public input on the study and then move quickly from study to implementation of additional protection measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a logical choke point in the system," said a joint statement from the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Natural Resources Defense Council, Prairie Rivers Network and the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.
Even though there is still a chance Asian carp could reach Lake Michigan with the tentative proposal, some environmentalists said they believe the series of obstacles being considered could potentially work together to greatly lower that risk.
“It looks like the Corps is planning to make Asian carp run the gauntlet before they could even get to the Brandon Road lock,” said Marc Smith, Great Lakes conservation director for the National Wildlife Federation. “While we are still evaluating the draft report, our initial reaction is that a combination of these options could possibly reduce the chance that an Asian carp gets through at each stage.”
The report comes less than two months after a live Asian carp was caught beyond electric barriers near Chicago. Additional fishing and sampling found no other carp, however. It was only the second Asian carp found beyond the electric barriers in the last seven years.
Environmentalists, legislators and others are concerned that if the voracious species of fish reach Lake Michigan and establish themselves in the Great Lakes, they will destroy habitat for local fish.
"Asian carp have the potential to decimate the waters we all love and depend upon, as well as our region’s $7 billion fishing and $16 billion boating industries," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. "We cannot afford to wait to combat this threat. This long-overdue study is critical to getting a full understanding of our options to stop this destructive force."
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said: “Now that this report and its recommendations are public, it’s time to take this positive momentum and push forward long-term solutions to stop Asian carp from damaging the Great Lakes."
Electric barriers in the Chicago area have been largely effective in stopping the spread of Asian carp but have come under fire recently because of indications that smaller fish can be swept through them by passing barges. As the Free Press reported Friday, some studies have shown that "complex" sound -- such as white noise -- can deter the fish as well.
The leading edge of the Asian carp population is about six miles downstream from the Brandon Road Lock -- and about 47 miles from Lake Michigan.
With the report made public, the Corps will take comments for 45 days -- go to http://glmris.anl.gov/brandon-rd/draft-comments/ to make a comment online -- and schedule public meetings to discuss it before finalizing its decision. Ultimately, however, if the recommended proposal is to be put in place at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, it will come down to the Trump administration and Congress deciding to fund it.
To see the report, go to: http://glmris.anl.gov/documents/docs/brandon-rd/GLMRIS-BR_Draft_Report.pdf.
Even though the report did not recommend closing the lock altogether, inland shippers still voiced concerns that the Corps had not adequately estimated the impact the tentatively selected plan would have on their businesses, the report said.
The report said shippers expressed concerns over the risks to safety involved by operating an electric barrier in the approach channel and complained that the project could hurt the reliability of the lock's operation.
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Contact Todd Spangler at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.
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