Michigan, other lawmakers target these Great Lakes priorities for more cash

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Bipartisan House lawmakers from several Great Lakes states are asking the Biden administration to prioritize funding in the next budget for projects that would address the progress of Asian carp and make overdue improvements to the Soo Locks.

The projects highlighted for inclusion in President Joe Biden's fiscal 2022 budget include the waterway project at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois that lawmakers hope will halt the progress of Asian carp toward the lakes, as well as $37.3 million toward construction of a new Soo Lock.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun construction of a $1 billion lock that can accommodate 1,000 - foot freighters on the St. Mary's River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The Sabin Lock, far right, will be rmoved and the Davis Lock, second from right, will be rebuilt into a 1,200-long super lock that will allow 1,000-foot freighers to transit the St. Mary's River Rapids.

The lawmakers' Tuesday letter was directed to the White House Office of Budget and Management Acting Director Shalanda Young and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jaime A. Pinkham. 

The letter, signed by 32 members, was led by the co-chairs of the House Great Lakes Task Force, Reps. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio; Bill Huizenga, R-Holland; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; and David Joyce, R-Ohio, as well as Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, and Bill Foster, D-Illinois. 

“There is no shortage of bipartisan support for the Great Lakes in this Congress," they said in a joint statement. "Every dollar spent on these projects will have a profoundly positive impact on our region."

The House members are seeking $4.94 million for preconstruction engineering and design for the Brandon Road project, as well as nearly $17 million for maintenance and operations of electric barriers meant to slow Asian Carp and other invasive species in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Plans to fortify the dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois, include an engineered channel fitted with devices such as loudspeakers, electric shocks, a flushing lock and air bubble curtains. The site is considered a choke point for stopping the progress of Asian Carp between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, which the destructive carp have overrun. 

The estimated cost of the project by the Army Corps of Engineers is $778 million for construction, though the figure could change as the agency completes more design work.

The lawmakers are also asking for $37.3 million to continue construction in the Soo at the shipping lock complex on the St. Mary's River in the Upper Peninsula that connects Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes.

Plans call for a new 1,200-foot-long lock to mirror the 49-year-old Poe lock, which is the only shipping lock that can handle the largest freighters carrying 89% of the cargo through the corridor. Two dormant locks will be removed over the next decade and one new "super lock" will be constructed. Congress recently provided funding for the new lock during the Trump administration.

Carp jump out of the Cumberland River in Grand Rivers, Ky. as biologists work to remove them from the water during an electrofishing demonstration on Aug. 1 to show the large population of invasive carp in the river.

The lawmakers' letter also seeks $69 million for operations and maintenance at the locks; $10 million for environmental projects under the Army Corps' Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration program; and for a new study of lake water levels called the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study.

House Appropriations member Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican from Midland, has criticized a $1 billion budget cut that Biden is proposing for the Army Corps, which is responsible for important priorities in the Great Lakes, including combating Asian carp and the new Soo lock construction.

Moolenaar was among the Michigan members who signed onto Tuesday's letter, along with Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills; Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Lisa McCain, R-Bruce Township; Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit; Elissa Slotkin,D-Holly; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; and Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township.