U.S. House panel backs Asian carp barrier project

The Detroit News

The transportation and infrastructure committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to build a system to prevent Asian carp from penetrating the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois and entering the Great Lakes.

The project, announced by the four chairs on the House Great Lakes Task Force, is to be overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers. Those members are Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and David Joyce, R-Ohio.

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois.

The legislation also would increase the federal cost share for the project to 80%, reducing the financial strain on state and local authorities. The Great Lakes Task Force sent a multi-member letter requesting that the project be authorized and to increase the federal cost share.

"Preventing Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes remains one of our top priorities on the task force," Dingell said in a statement. "Asian carp have the potential to devastate the waters we all love and depend on, and we must ensure we have an advanced system in place to stop the spread of this invasive species for future generations.

“Asian carp pose a significant threat to the Great Lakes from an ecological as well as an economic standpoint,” Huizenga said. “Earlier this year, I appeared before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to urge Congress to make protecting and preserving the Great Lakes a national priority."

The lock near Joliet, Illinois, is a choke point where bighead, silver and black carp could be blocked from migrating to Lake Michigan through Chicago-area waterways. The project's cost has been estimated at $778 million.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget, unveiled in February, included no funding for the next phase of work on the project.

It would include an engineered channel with an acoustic fish deterrent, air bubble curtain, electric barrier, flushing lock and boat ramps. In May 2019, the Army Corps estimated additional operations and maintenance at the dam would cost $7.7 million annually.  

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.

Last year,  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.