Mayor Daley: Chicago shouldn't bear full cost of Asian carp

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley argues against locking down a historic canal in order to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan. The issue comes as Daley's 'green' credentials are being questioned.

By , Staff writer

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    Illinois River silver carp - a variety of Asian carp - jump out of the water after being disturbed by sounds of watercraft.
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Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley agrees that the Asian carp present an ecological and economic threat to the Great Lakes. But he disagrees with neighboring states that Illinois should lock down a historic canal that allows the fish to get to Lake Michigan.

In a letter published in the Washington Post this week, Mayor Daley argued that the invasive species – which experts say will destroy the lake ecosystem – is a “national problem that requires national solutions” and therefore Illinois alone should not have to foot the costs associated with addressing the problem.

“No one should accept the notion that the governments and their citizens who happen to reside closest to Lake Michigan should be forced to assume all the responsibility for this problem, or take on the environmental and economic costs associated with solving it,” he wrote.

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Michigan filed a lawsuit against Illinois in December arguing for the closure of the O’Brien Lock and Dam in the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Controlling Works in the Illinois River – the point being to seal off the fish from entering Lake Michigan after DNA evidence showed some Asian carp had made it to the lake’s waters already. (For first time, Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan. Monitor report here.)

Daley said the Chicago canal, an artificial and century-old waterway linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, is “just one of a large number of passageways by which invasive species enter the Great Lakes.”

Illinois, Daley wrote, should not be “expected to simply agree to Michigan's proposed ‘solution’ of closing the navigational locks on Chicago's waterways … the complexity of this system means that you cannot simply flip a switch and declare it closed.” (Governors meet at White House about Asian carp. Monitor report here.)

Daley touted his past leadership in confronting the Asian carp problem, which includes working with state lawmakers and Canadian authorities. His pro-environment position as is familiar to Chicagoans, who are used to such high-profile public initiatives as a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions, an aggressive tree planting program, and a rooftop garden atop city hall.

However Daley’s credentials as a “green mayor” also are marked by multiple complaints from environmental groups that say Chicago lacks a comprehensive program to confront its transit problems and traffic congestion and that the mayor has done little to regulate two polluting power plants on the city’s South Side.

The largest roadblock to Daley’s environmental legacy is the city’s failed recycling program. A blue bag program was launched in 1995, but was abandoned in 2008 after criticism the program was ineffective in recycling the majority of collected waste. A curbside recycling program was announced as its replacement but it is not yet available to all neighborhoods in the city.

The results of the failed efforts came to light this week when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency published a report that said that in 2008 the average Chicagoan produced 56 percent more pounds of trash a day than the average Illinois resident.

“Unfortunately, we're going in the wrong direction,” the Chicago Reader reported this week. “Chicago’s waste output is now more than 300 percent what it was in the early 1980s. Across the US, it’s gone up about 65 percent.”

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