Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press3:57 p.m. EST February 26, 2015
WASHINGTON – Legislation proposed Thursday by most of the members of Michigan’s congressional delegation would help create a new barrier to voracious Asian Carp in an Illinois waterway and call for a long-term plan for keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, sponsored it in both chambers, with most of the state’s members of Congress signing on. Among other requirements, the bill would push federal officials to step up efforts to block the carp at a key choke-point in Joliet, Ill.
“We cannot afford to take a cavalier approach when it comes to protecting our Great Lakes from Asian carp,” Miller said. “This destructive species is quickly migrating north, destroying nearly every ecosystem along the way.”
The legislation comes at a time when environmentalists have voiced their displeasure with the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for tackling the threat posed by the carp, which has already spread up the Mississippi River basin. While including $28-million to finish a third electric barrier near Chicago, the budget included only $500,000 to explore efforts at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet.
As the Free Press has reported, activists, seeing efforts to block the movement of Asian carp at the Illinois waterway as the best short-term step for protecting the Lakes, had asked the Obama administration to commit at least $8 million to efforts there. The Corps has said it is evaluating options at the lock and dam.
Thursday’s legislation doesn’t require certain levels of funding or spell out what the Corps or other federal agencies must put in place at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, but it could clear away bureaucratic hurdles to beginning work there and set a deadline for a plan to be readied.
Directing federal agencies to “take immediate action to prevent the upstream transfer” of Asian carp and other invasive species in the Mississippi River basin, the bill calls on the Corps to come up with a cost estimate and schedule, within six months of enactment, for digging a new channel at the lock and dam which would feature “technologies and measures necessary” to control the carp’s spread.
It also calls for federal officials to implement “all appropriate measures” there for stopping Asian carp — an all-inclusive menu which could include electric barriers like those at the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal — as well as monitoring the movement of fish in the new channel.
Meanwhile, the bill also calls for officials to take “actions” — without being specific about what those actions may be — for long-term prevention measures to keep the species out of Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. It essentially reiterates a plea that the Corps needs to develop a specific long-term plan for control, even though the Corps has been waiting for direction from Congress.
A long-awaited 232-page report issued more than a year ago included a list of alternatives to combating the Asian carp’s spread but made no recommendation. Among the alternatives was one for physically separating the Great Lakes from the Chicago-area waterways, but the report suggested such a project, politically difficult at best, could be prohibitively expensive.
“Finding a solution to the threat from Asian carp and other invasive species is not easy,” Stabenow said. “Our bill is our best chance of halting these fish as they come through the Chicago waterway.”
The legislation also calls for efforts to look at other waterways around the Great Lakes region and the Midwest to monitor the spread of Asian carp, a catchall term for a few species of transplanted fish that are feared would decimate habitat in the Great Lakes if they reach them.
While the bill’s chances in Congress are uncertain, it, and the threat posed by Asian carp, generated some personal feelings on the part of Michigan legislators. Talking about the bill today, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, talked of time she spent growing up on the St. Clair River.
“Every day, I took the water for granted. We swam, fished, collected minnows, ice-skated and ice fished. I learned the language of boats, barges and buoys. Heaven to me then and still now is floating down the river in an inner tube,” she said. “Protecting the Great Lakes is personal to me.”
Even if the legislation were to win passage in both chambers of Congress and be signed into law, however, lawmakers would still have to decide on whether to fund any recommendation the Army Corps and other agencies develop as part of the normal budget process.
Besides Dingell, Miller and Stabenow, 11 other members of the state’s delegation signed off on the bill, leaving only U.S. Reps. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield. Several other lawmakers from Great Lakes states signed on as well.
Contact TODD SPANGLER at 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @tsspangler.