New push to prevent Great Lakes invasive species

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Most of Michigan’s congressional delegation backed legislation introduced Thursday to stop Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, introduced a bill backed by another 12 members of the Michigan congressional delegation, and said it is aimed at protecting the hundreds of thousands of jobs tied to the Great Lakes region’s $7 billion recreational fishing and $16 billion recreational boating industries.

The Defending Our Great Lakes Act would give federal agencies “broad authority to take immediate actions to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species,” according to a statement from Stabenow and Miller. “This legislation will also require key agencies to work with regional stakeholders to institute long-term measures to stop the spread of invasive species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.”

In 2012, Congress approved the Stop Invasive Species Act, expediting the completion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ report, known as the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study.

“Finding a solution to the threat from Asian carp and other invasive species is not easy,” Stabenow said. “Working alongside members of the Michigan delegation and a wide range of stakeholders, including other Great Lakes lawmakers, our bill is our best chance of halting these fish as they come through the Chicago waterway.”

Miller sponsored House legislation in 2014 to stop Asian carp.

“We cannot afford to take a cavalier approach when it comes to protecting our Great Lakes from Asian carp,” Miller said. “This destructive species is quickly migrating north, destroying nearly every ecosystem along the way. In fact, just this week, we learned that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has identified nearly 30 of these aggressive fish just south of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which is why this bipartisan, bicameral legislation I am working with Sen. Stabenow to advance is so important.”

The Defending Our Great Lakes Act would give the Army Corps of Engineers authority to take short-term and long-term actions to prevent the spread of invasive species at a key point near the western end of the Chicago Area Waterway System — the Brandon Road Lock and Dam.

“Protecting the Great Lakes is personal to me and critical for our state,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. “It is also an excellent example of how the Michigan delegation can work together in a bipartisan way. ... Just one Asian carp entering the Great Lakes would have a devastating impact on tourism, fishing and conservation.”

An earlier report called for the construction of an engineered channel to put control technologies in place like additional electric barriers, carbon dioxide bubble screens, underwater sound canons and pheromones at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The Army Corps of Engineers said in December they are evaluating which technologies will be most effective at keeping invasive species out of the Great Lakes Basin.

“Most stakeholders agree that an invasive species inhibiting structure at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam can and should be achieved as soon as possible,” said Michigan State University professor William Taylor, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s U.S. section chairman. “This legislation seeks the art of the possible by addressing the most immediate opportunities first while not easing up on the pursuit of innovative, permanent, long-term solutions. I commend Sen. Stabenow and Congresswoman Miller for their unrelenting work to stanch the tide of invasive species that cost billions of dollars in damage to the US and Canada each year.”

Separately, an amendment offered Thursday by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species transported via ballast water of seafaring ships was included a bill that passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee with bipartisan support.

Peters’ amendment would require vessels entering the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway to flush their ballast water tanks before entry.

“The Great Lakes are an integral part of Michigan’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs in our state’s fishing, agriculture and tourism industries,” Peters said. “Threats from contamination and invasive species put Michigan’s economic and environmental health at risk, and we must do everything we can to safeguard our Great Lakes for years to come. This amendment will help protect the Great Lakes and promote a strong economic future for Michigan.”

The proposal would require the Coast Guard to ensure that vessels entering the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway exchange their ballast water while still at sea and flush their tanks before entry, which will help prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.

“Ballast is the leading way for aquatic invaders to gain entry to the Great Lakes. ... We support Sen. Peters’ amendment,” said Dan Wyant, director of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration proposed cutting the Great Lakes environmental fund — by $50 million to $250 million — for efforts to clean up pollution and restore fish and wildlife habitats. Despite Obama’s request last year to cut lakes grants to $275 million, Congress kept funding at $300 million.