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Michigan hails judge's move in Asian carp fight against Chicago

A judge on Monday scheduled hearings in an Asian carp case for September – a move that will allow five Midwestern states to call on expert testimony. The five states are seeking to close two Chicago canals in a bid to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

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In their bid to close the locks, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have filed suit against Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

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Still, opponents of the lawsuit have stressed that just one fish has been found in 10 months of searching, and say that closing the O’Brien and Chicago Locks would have drastic economic ramifications without any guarantee of keeping the carp out.

“The carp have traversed half a dozen locks in the Illinois river system,” says Jim Farrell, executive director of the Infrastructure Council at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “If locks were part of the solution, carp wouldn’t be there.”

He calls the lawsuit “a politically motivated activity” by attorney generals up for reelection, and cites one study that puts the direct economic impact of shutting the locks at $4.7 billion – with larger ripple effects.

Solution or stopgap?

But John Selleck, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, says shutting the locks is a key step. “It’s like knowing you live in a high-crime area and the front door is wide open,” he says.

Many groups, meanwhile, stress that all of these measures are simply stopgaps for a bigger problem.

“This is a chance to set a new precedent for how we think about invasive species,” says Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Mr. Brammeier and others say that ultimately, what’s needed is a solution that permanently separates the Mississippi River basin from the Great Lakes, after it was connected through the Chicago Area Waterway System more than a century ago.

Without that, any short-term efforts to stop the Asian carp are likely to fail. “I’m convinced that all of these are just band-aids, and we need some major surgery,” says David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

[Editor's note: The original headline mischaracterized the judge's action as a ruling.]