Feds approve plan to help block Asian carp from Great Lakes

The Detroit News
In this June 13, 2012, file photo, Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jump from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill.

Federal officials announced Thursday that they approved a plan aimed at keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes after studying the issue for five years.

The recommended plan for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, followed findings from the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study that showed the site could be a "one-way choke point" to stop the spread of the invasive species.

Commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, approved the proposal, which calls for measures such as an engineered channel with an acoustic fish deterrent, air bubble curtain and electric barrier.

It also calls for a flushing lock, boat ramps and others efforts to prevent Asian carp from moving from the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes basin through the Chicago Area Waterway System, said Army Corps officials in a statement Thursday.

The recommendation will be sent to Congress for authorization consideration.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who has sought funding for efforts to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes, supported the move.

“The release of this final comprehensive plan is a critical step forward in our fight against Asian carp," said Stabenow, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force.

"The Army Corps has laid out a full suite of technologies that can be put in place at Brandon Road, both now and in the future, to stop Asian carp from wreaking havoc in the Great Lakes. Most importantly, this report gives Congress what it needs to authorize funding for the project and finally advance a much-needed, long-term solution.”

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said he has stressed the project's importance "from the beginning."

"Time is of the essence and the Great Lakes cannot wait. I hope the finalized plan from the Army Corps hasn’t arrived too late with a cost too great for Congress to act," said Huizenga, co-chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force.

Lawmakers in Congress, as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, have raised concerns about the estimated cost of the Army Corps project — $778 million for construction, including contingencies and a non-federal sponsor's share of $272 million.

Additional operations and maintenance costs are estimated at $7.7 million annually, including a non-federal share of $1.5 million. 

For the project to advance, Illinois, the project's non-federal sponsor, would need to sign off on an agreement with the Army Corps for the pre-construction, engineering and design phase of the project. 

News of the plan's approval comes after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month announced that the environmental DNA (eDNA) of three bighead carp and three silver carp had been found in Lake Calumet, south of Chicago near the Indiana border.

It is unclear if any actual fish were found, officials monitoring the situation said.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes, an advocacy group, urged Congress to move quickly to authorize funding to upgrade the Brandon Road in response to the carp threat. 

"We are pleased that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed the Chief of Engineers report recommending additional protections at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois," said Molly Flanagan, the alliance's vice president for policy.

"After five years of study, the report provides Congress the information it needs to act."

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, praised Thursday's development.

“As all Michiganders know, if invasive species get into the Great Lakes, it will have a catastrophic effect on our commerce and way of life," he said.

"The recent discovery of Asian carp eDNA in Lake Calumet - which is mere miles from Lake Michigan — shows the threat is very real and action must be taken quickly to address the issue."

Advocates seeking to protect the Great Lakes have long been trying to keep the invasive species out of the system.

The Illinois River is infested with several varieties of Asian carp, which were imported decades ago to cleanse Southern sewage lagoons and fish farms but escaped into the Mississippi River and invaded many of its tributaries.

Environmentalists and some states, including Michigan, have called for walling off Lake Michigan from the Chicago waterway system, which Illinois opposes as disruptive to commercial navigation. The Brandon Road project is considered a compromise.

The Associated Press and Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed to this report.