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Illinois rejects $8M from Michigan to aid Asian carp project

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner

Outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has rebuffed an offer of $8 million by Michigan to help support a planned waterway project to block the invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

Rauner, a Republican, said in a letter this month to term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder that Michigan's offer of $8 million to support operations and maintenance at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Lake Michigan "isn’t of much use" until after the improvement project there is completed in 10 years.

"In that context, the Michigan offer lacks the true sense of urgency required to protect the Great Lakes for the next decade," Rauner said in a statement. 

Both Republican governors are leaving office at year's end, with Snyder being succeeded by Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and Rauner by J.B. Pritzker, also a Democrat. 

"We do not believe it is appropriate — especially given our lame-duck status — for us to accept funds and bind Illinois to a project that is not final, and whose true costs are years from being calculated," Rauner wrote. 

Snyder had not responded to Rauner as of Thursday, spokesman Ari Adler said.

"Gov. Snyder would encourage Gov.-elect Whitmer to continue pursuing this issue with the new governor of Illinois next year to ensure the Great Lakes are protected as much as possible as soon as possible from the threat of Asian carp," Adler said. 

To reduce the risk of Asian carp reaching the lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended installing a new electric barrier at the Brandon Road lock near Joliet, Illinois, to repel or stun the destructive fish. 

The corps also plans flushing jets and a "curtain" of air bubbles to remove fish in the spaces between barges, as well as underwater speakers to generate noise to deter fish from traveling beyond the lock and dam.

The agency's updated cost estimate last month was $777.8 million for construction, including contingencies and a non-federal sponsor's share of $272 million.

Additional operations and maintenance costs are estimated at $7.7 million annually, including a non-federal share of $1.5 million. 

Rauner was responding to a Dec. 11 letter in which Snyder urged the Illinois governor to commit to joining Michigan and other Great Lakes states in a partnership agreement to support the Brandon Road project. 

Snyder offered a "down payment" of $8 million from the state's 2019 budget toward the operations and maintenance costs posed by the project. 

"We cannot afford to wait any longer to take action," Snyder wrote to Rauner, offering to help support the project "financially and informatively." 

"The entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes would have a devastating, permanent impact not only in Michigan, but in every Midwestern state or province that shares this shoreline. The strength, protection and sustainability of our economy, environment, industries and public health are at stake.”

In his letter, Snyder noted Rauner's previous statements that he wished to pursue an intergovernmental agreement with other Great Lakes states to share in the cost of a non-federal sponsorship of the project. 

But Rauner responded that, even under an accelerated timeline for the project, the earliest possible date for money to be allocated toward operations and maintenance would be 2028. 

"In fact, the final project design is still four years away and will be required before any substantial fair share funding agreement could ever be responsibly discussed by Great Lakes states," Rauner wrote. 

Illinois previously fought the Brandon Road project, with officials raising concerns about the project's impact on the regional economy and commercial and recreational navigation.

Illinois has not committed funds towards the project, though it agreed this year to serve as the project's non-federal sponsor.

For the project to advance, Illinois would need to sign off on an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the pre-construction, engineering and design phase of the project, said Jennifer J. Caddick of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an advocacy group.

Also, Illinois or other entities would need to provide the money for the non-federal sponsor's share of the project cost, Caddick said. 

Rauner told Snyder he would accept the $8 million from Michigan to enhance commercial fishing to remove the carp from the Upper Illinois River system.

He cited scientists at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources estimating that kind of investment would double the fishing and monitoring of Asian carp and reduce the risk of the fish getting past Brandon Road prior to the construction of a deterrent barrier there.