Dems urge Trump for release of Asian carp plan draft

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A dozen Democratic senators representing Great Lakes states on Monday urged President Donald Trump to greenlight the release of a draft plan to slow Asian carp from infiltrating the freshwater lakes.

A draft report for fighting the invasive species at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam project near Joliet, Illinois, was due to be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Feb. 28, but it was delayed at the direction of the Trump administration.

“We are concerned by what we understand to be a White House decision to delay and potentially modify this report that has been under development for years,” wrote the senators, led by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing.

“The only details we have received on the rationale for this decision is that ‘further coordination’ with government and non-government stakeholders was necessary. This explanation is hard to comprehend when the draft plan is the very mechanism for providing all stakeholders the opportunity to review and consider its merits.”

Bipartisan members of Michigan’s delegation in the House wrote to Trump last month with other Great Lakes lawmakers, asking for Trump’s “personal assistance” in directing the Army Corps to release the study.

The White House said last month that the Army Corps is holding off on releasing the plan “so the administration has an opportunity to examine the issue.”

The report, undertaken by the Corps two years ago, was expected to recommend measures to prevent Asian carp from traveling beyond the lock and dam, which is 286 miles above the confluence of the Illinois River and the Mississippi River. The location is considered a choke point in the fight against invasive species reaching Great Lakes waterways.

Federal agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on stopgap measures, including placing electric barriers for the destructive fish in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

But parties in Illinois and Indiana have raised concerns, prompting lawmakers from those states to request the delay earlier this year.

A Feb. 23 letter to Trump from 16 Republican members of Congress, largely from Illinois and Indiana, said the project would have “significant implications” for commercial vessel traffic at the Brandon Road Lock and, by extension, the regional economy.

They argued that existing actions to mitigate the risk of Asian carp moving upriver have been successful, and the Corps, therefore, “should not hastily recommend a structural alternative that could negatively impact the economy and the safety of towboat crews.”

The Illinois and Indiana representatives urged the Trump administration to delay release of the draft report until after the Republican-controlled Senate confirms a new Army assistant secretary responsible for overseeing the Corps of Engineers.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has also called on the federal government to move on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam project. Great Lakes lawmakers say the region’s $7 billion sport fishing market, $16 billion boating industry and $18 billion hunting and wildlife observation market are at stake.

Stabenow’s letter, joined by Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, as well as senators from Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, said the delay is complicating efforts to develop financial commitments for the project from non-federal entities.

She asked the administration to explain what further stakeholder coordination has occurred since the study’s released was delayed in February, what changes are under consideration, and whether any stakeholders will be given the chance to review the plan before release.

Alan Marshall, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district office in Rock Island, Illinois, this week had no updated information on a timeline for the report’s release.

“When the report is set for release, public notice will be provided,” he said by email.