TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Thirty-one members of Congress prodded the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers on Friday to consider a multi-billion-dollar plan
released this week for cutting a Chicago-area link between the Great Lakes
and Mississippi River watersheds to stop migration of Asian carp and other
The lawmakers said a blueprint commissioned by two organizations should help
the corps speed up its own study of how to shut down aquatic pathways
between the two drainage basins, scheduled for completion by late 2015.
Critics say that’s too slow, with Asian carp threatening to use the Chicago
waterway system to reach Lake Michigan, where scientists say the voracious
fish could devastate native fish populations by gobbling up plankton at the
base of the food chain.
The proposal from the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St.
Lawrence Cities Initiative offers three alternatives for separating the two
watersheds by placing barriers at key locations in the Chicago waterway
system. It estimates the price tag at $3.3 billion to $9.5 billion.
“We ask how the corps will use the thorough analysis provided in this new
report and how the corps will be able to shorten its time frame for
completing (its study) by incorporating the new information contained in the
report,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant
secretary of the Army for civil works.
It was signed by seven senators and 24 House members. The group included
members of both parties and at least one lawmaker from seven of the eight
states within the Great Lakes region — Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin,
Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Only Indiana had no signers.
Jacqueline Tate, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps’ Great Lakes and Ohio
River Division, said the agency had not received the letter and would have
no immediate comment.
Whether to sever the man-made link between the Mississippi and Great Lakes
systems is a divisive issue in the region.
Engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River and built a 28-mile-long
canal a century ago to flush the city’s sewage toward the Mississippi. The
Chicago waterway system is now a 130-mile-long network of canals, rivers,
navigational locks and other infrastructure.
Invasive species such as zebra mussels and round gobies have used the
aquatic highway to migrate from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and its
tributaries. Now, Asian carp have moved up the Mississippi and Illinois
rivers and are on the doorstep of Lake Michigan, held at bay by an electric
barrier system. The corps says it’s working well, but scientists have
detected Asian carp DNA beyond the barrier and critics say it’s not a
Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania favor physically
separating the basins and are suing in federal court to speed up the Army
Business and government leaders in Illinois and Indiana have opposed
separation, saying it would disrupt cargo shipping and pleasure boat
operations in the waterways and cost the local economy billions. Four
members of Congress from Indiana spoke against it after the report was
released this week.
Supporters of separation say it’s the only way to protect the lakes’
ecosystems and a fishing industry valued at $7 billion.
“This action is necessary and achievable,” said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich.
Despite widespread opposition to separation in Illinois, two members of its
congressional delegation — Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Mike Quigley, both
Democrats — signed the letter to Darcy.
The letter does not specifically endorse any of the report’s alternatives or
the idea of separation. But it notes that the report has information on
engineering design, economic impacts, water quality and flood management
that should help the corps move faster.