Trump funds Soo Locks, but not Asian carp barrier in budget plan

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Less than two weeks after promising Michigan residents that he would address the threat of Asian carp in the Great Lakes, President Donald Trump omitted funding in his new budget for work toward a dam to stop the entry of the invasive species. 

But the Republican president continued to meet his promise to provide aid to build a new large lock in the Soo Locks, proposing $123.3 million for the Michigan project after signing a bill with $75 million at the end of last year.

Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget includes no funding for the next phase of work for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, a project approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a “one-way choke point” between the Mississippi River basin through the Chicago Area Waterway System and into the Great Lakes basin. 

President Donald Trump gives remarks at Dana Incorporated in Warren, Mich. on Jan. 30, 2020.

The $778 million project would include an engineered channel with an acoustic fish deterrent, air bubble curtain, electric barrier, flushing lock and boat ramps. In May, the Army Corps estimated additional operations and maintenance costs at the dam would cost $7.7 million annually. 

The absence of funding for the project in the budget Trump proposed Monday was noted by some Michigan lawmakers, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who said the lack of investment increases the state’s invasive species risk. 

“President Trump’s budget fails to meet our Michigan test for what is important,” the Lansing Democrat said.

Michigan Republicans praised the president Monday for dedicating $123.2 million for a new lock in Sault Ste. Marie and fully funding the $320 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in his proposed budget.

Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet helped secure Trump's reversal of the administration's prior policy of seeking a 90% cut in the lakes clean-up aid. They also lobbied for his support of the Soo Locks funding.

“In this budget, the president demonstrated his commitment to Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region by fully funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” said Huizenga, who is co-chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force. “Having the president engage on this critical issue improves the chances for bipartisan legislation to be signed into law that will protect and strengthen the Great Lakes."

Talks with the administration that helped secure funding for the initiative could also usher in progress on Asian carp, Huizenga said in a Tuesday statement.

"That same strategy of engagement should be used to stress the importance, significance and need for protective measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam system," the fifth-term member of Congress said. "As I continue to engage the administration on this important infrastructure project, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure measures that protect the Great Lakes are properly funded." 

Advocates seeking to protect the Great Lakes have long been trying to keep the invasive species out of the system. The Michigan delegation had little success in seeking measures fighting the Asian Carp at the Illinois choke point during the Obama administration.

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.

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam was approved in May as a way to combat the spread of the fish into the Great Lakes. The approval came shortly after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.

The Army Corps continues to work with the state of Illinois on a design agreement that would allow the Corps to commence the pre-construction engineering and design phase, Corps spokesman Allen Marshall said.

With the design agreement in place, the Corps could begin the pre-construction engineering and design phase "as soon as funds are available, both federally and non-federally as per the cost share agreement related to this project," Marshall said. 

A line of bubbles from a bio-acoustic fish fence rises to the surface of the water at Barkley Lock and Dam where the Cumberland River meets Lake Barkley, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Grand Rivers, Ky. The Michigan congressional delegation is seeking such a noise-making, bubbling, bio-acoustic barrier at an Illinois choke point to deter the spread of destructive Asian carp .

On Jan. 30, Trump told supporters during a speech in Warren that he planned to move forward with additional protections against invasive species threatening “the incredible Great Lakes.”

“I told the members that are here with me that we are going to protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp — who would have thought that was going to happen? — and other invasive species,” he said. “It's become a big problem and we’re working on it.”

He added that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already had a plan in place “and we are going to get this done and ready to go.”

“It’s not easy, but we have all of the top technology and we’re going to take care of it,” Trump said. 

The Alliance for the Great Lakes criticized the lack of funding for the project in Trump’s budget less than two weeks after expressing his commitment to the project in Warren. 

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Molly Flanagan, vice president for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “President Trump’s actions reveal that he cannot be counted on to protect the environment and economy of the Great Lakes.”

Some Democrats criticized other cuts for agencies integral to clean water initiatives such as the Army Corps and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“This budget cuts critical funding for them at a time when PFAS contamination is spreading and water infrastructure is crumbling, these cuts are the wrong direction,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.