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8 options suggested to fight Asian carp, but lawmakers want more specifics

by Candice Miller on January 8, 2014

Jim Lynch

The Detroit News

Asian big head carp, weighing up to 100 pounds, have progressed steadily northward since being introduced in Arkansas in the 1970s. (M. Spencer Green / Associated Press)


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled Monday ways of preventing Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, but its lack of a recommended plan of attack for immediate implementation troubled many in Michigan’s congressional delegation.


The invasive Asian carp are considered a major threat to both the $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry as well as the water-based tourism industry in Michigan and nearby states. And they sit on the region’s doorstep.


Among the eight options laid out Monday in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study were steps that could take as long as 25 years and cost up to $18.4 billion.


“This report does not make recommendations nor does it prioritize the plans,” said U.S. Army Corps Brig. Gen. Margaret Burcham.


The declaration frustrated Democrats and Republicans alike from Michigan’s congressional delegation, who have been pushing for definitive action for years.


“It’s not what we had hoped for in terms of honing in on one option and being as specific as we wanted it to be …,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing. “Now that the report is in, we need action. We don’t need more studies.”


Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, was also looking for a more definitive plan of action, adding: “Obviously, 25 years doesn’t meet that matrix.”


The report’s eight options are:


■ Continuing current efforts, such as using electric barriers to prevent the invasive species’ further migration, without taking any additional steps.


■ Enacting non-structural control technologies, including public education, monitoring, herbicides and ballast water management. Estimated cost is around $68 million annually.


■ Implementation of a specialized lock system, lock channel, electric barriers and Aquatic Nuisance Species treatment plants at two mid-system points in the Chicago Area Waterway System. This would also require extensive flood mitigation work. Estimated cost is $15.5 billion and could take 25 years to complete.


■ Creation of a buffer zone in the Chicago Area Waterway System using the same technologies as option No. 3, preventing downstream passage from Lake Michigan at five points and preventing upstream passage at a single point at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. Estimated cost is $7.8 billion, and completion could take a decade to complete.


■ Using physical barriers to separate the basins at four locations along the lakefront of Lake Michigan. Completion would take 25 years and cost $18.4 billion.


■ Creating physical barriers to separate the basins at two mid-system locations. Completion would take 25 years and cost $15.5 billion.


■ A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Cal-Sag channel open. Completion would take 25 years and cost $15.1 billion.


■ A hybrid of technology and physical barriers at four mid-system locations, leaving the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal open. Completion would take 25 years and cost $8.3 billion.


A public comment period on the plan will run until March 3, and seven public meetings around the Great Lakes region will be held.


To many, the most surefire way to prevent the carp from entering Lake Michigan is creating the physical barrier in the Chicago Area Waterway System. Shipping industry officials and the boat tour industry in the Chicago area have fought the idea.


“We believe it is clear from the GLMRIS report that one of the alternatives, physical separation, is neither economically feasible nor will it be effective at eliminating all identified pathways for the spread of invasive species, including Asian carp,” said American Waterways Operators President and CEO Tom Allegretti in a press release.


But U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, backed the approach.


“While I recognize the significant investment required for complete (physical) separation, the entire nation must realize the detrimental impact to the entire Great Lakes Basin if we do not find the collective political will to fund complete separation,“ Miller said in a Monday statement.


For decades, the invasive Asian carp — specifically silver and bighead — have made their way north through the Mississippi River system. They were introduced as algae eaters to Southern fish farms and eventually escaped.


The same skill set that allows them to eat unwanted vegetation from ponds also makes them a threat to native fish populations in the rivers, lakes and stream. Asian carp move into new areas and proceed to eat the plankton and food sources of native fish, forcing those species to move or decline in numbers.


Asian carp have become famous, or infamous, for their leaping ability — a trait that is put on display when motored craft move through an area populated by the fish. The vibrations from the motors cause the fish to leap high into the air, which makes them a danger to boaters, skiers or anyone using a body of water for recreation.

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