Governors meet at White House about Asian carp

Federal authorities are proposing to control, but not close, Illinois shipping locks in an effort to prevent the Asian carp from infiltrating the Great Lakes. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm did not agree with the plan.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
Asian Big Head Carp swim, with a White Bass, bottom center, in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, Jan. 12.

The governors of Michigan and Wisconsin met at the White House Monday to discuss the next steps in preventing the invasive Asian carp’s potential entry into Lake Michigan from an Illinois shipping canal. The Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, also participated in the meeting by teleconference.

The summit was at the request of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), after the US Supreme Court ruled last month that it would not force Illinois to close the shipping locks that allow access to Lake Michigan. But on Monday, Governor Granholm came away from the summit less than satisfied with the results.

As part of the meeting, federal officials presented a proposed framework, designed to prevent the Asian carp from infiltrating the Great Lakes. Federal authorities are proposing to control, but not close, the lock operations. According to the plan, the locks will open and close less frequently, and the water will be treated each time the locks are open to prevent the fish from swimming through to the Lake Michigan side.

“What we’ll be doing is keeping the fish blocked when it’s open,” says Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. As for how the water will be treated, “those plans are under development” but will be “preventative,” Ms. Darcy says.

Also on Monday, the White House announced a $78.5 million commitment to deal with the issue. The federal money is intended for several things: new water sampling, the construction of a concrete and chain-link fence between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Des Plaines River, and the construction of a third electric barrier on the canal.

Michigan, however, has requested that the Illinois locks be permanently closed, and this request was at the heart of the lawsuit that the Supreme Court considered last month. The suit, which received support from five neighboring states, charged that Asian carp will potentially destroy the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and threaten the $7 billion business connected with it – primarily fishing and tourism industries.

In a statement released late Monday, Granholm said that the proposed framework’s “primary objectives are not sustainable and that this is a plan to limit damages, not solve the problem.”

She also said, “While we did have some areas of agreement with the White House, we believe that the plan does not adequately address the concerns we have been voicing about the imminent threat Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes.”

Monday’s meeting included officials from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and the Coast Guard.

The proposed framework argued against closing the locks for commercial reasons, saying that 14.6 million tons of the Chicago region’s petroleum, coal, road salt, cement, and iron travel through the lock, generating $2 billion each year. It also says that the canal is used by the Coast Guard for emergency purposes and is an essential piece of the area’s flood-control plan and water-treatment process.

On the same day that the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it discovered two DNA samples along Calumet Harbor near Lake Michigan, showing that Asian carp had breached Lake Michigan.

Earlier this month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox filed a renewed motion with the high court to ask for the lock closures, saying that the court made its decision without knowledge of the DNA evidence. He also said that Illinois “seriously exaggerated” the economic loss suffered if the locks were closed.

"We think the court should take another look at our request to hit the pause button on the locks until the entire Great Lakes region is comfortable that an effective plan is in place to stop Asian carp," Mr. Cox said in a statement.


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