Army Corps hikes cost to $778M for project to combat Asian carp

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

Washington — Federal officials have more than doubled the cost estimate to nearly $778 million for a waterway upgrade near Lake Michigan that aims to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

A draft of the plan from August 2017 had estimated the project cost at $275 million.

If funded and authorized by Congress, upgrades at the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois, would not be completed until 2025 or 2027, depending on whether construction is expedited or done incrementally. 

Brandon Road is considered an ideal site for blocking Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species from going upstream in part because of its physical configuration — a 24-foot difference in water elevation at the dam that limits upstream transfer of the fish.

The Army Corps is recommending installing a new electric barrier at the lock to repel or stun the destructive fish.

The corps also recommend creating a "curtain" of air bubbles to remove fish in the spaces between barges and underwater speakers that would generate noise to deter fish from traveling beyond the lock and dam.

The agency has stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock over concerns about the economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

In a feasibility report published this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attributed the increased cost to additional engineering and design completed since the August 2017 draft. 

The changes required revising cost estimates upwards, including expenses for environmental mitigation (tripled to $6.6 million), as well as for the engineered channel, flushing lock and other structural elements, the agency said.  

The Army Corps expects it would cover 65 percent of the project's cost, and the state of Illinois as the non-federal sponsor would cover the remainder. The shared cost is required for a construction project under the Water Resources Development Act.

The estimated project cost of $778 million does not include $11.8 million a year for non-structural measures that would be largely funded by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Those include public education and outreach, monitoring, piscicides, and manual and mechanical removal.

The Army Corps says it would aim to minimize impacts on navigation of the lock — which handles over 10 million tons of commercial cargo a year — in part by planning in-water construction for periods when the lock would be closed for maintenance. 

A period of review by federal and state agencies begins Friday when the feasibility report is published in the Federal Register.

The Brandon Road study was undertaken in 2015. A Chief of Engineers report is expected to be submitted to Congress in February, with authorization by next fall.   

The Army Corps said it received over 1,400 comments on the draft report, including concerns about the length of the project and its cost.

Twitter: @nannburke