A report released this month says Illinois officials have “seriously exaggerated” the claim that closing a navigational lock at a Chicago area shipping canal connecting the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes would “devastate” the area’s economy.
“Chicago Waterway System Ecological Separation: The Logistics and Transportation Related Cost Impact of Waterway Barrier” was prepared for the Michigan attorney general's office, which is leading a coalition of six states that want Illinois to immediately shut down the locks of the Chicago Waterway System.
Asian carp DNA was found east of the Chicago lock, which neighboring states and environmental groups say is evidence the invasive species is now entering Lake Michigan. At stake, they say, is a $7 billion annual fishing industry.
Illinois and related shipping interests say that another commodity is at stake — $16 billion in goods shipped each year through the waterway, according to the Illinois attorney general's office in an affidavit to the Supreme Court.
Anne Burns, vice president of public affairs and communications for the American Waterways Operators, a trade association representing the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry, says members of the group are also concerned about the Asian carp problem, but that shutting down the canal is not a solution because it puts companies at risk, and will increase pollution and public safety risks if goods were transferred to trucking or rail.
“There are other impacts that are not easy to track in numbers,” says Ms. Burns. “We feel that all the parties to this should work out a win-win situation so that the Great Lakes are protected from the Asian carp and not at the cost of shutting down commerce.” She adds that she has not yet read the Michigan attorney general’s report.
That report calls the economic impact of the proposed shutdown “modest,” saying that the waterway system represents less than 1 percent of total freight traffic that comes through the Chicago area. While the Illinois report says that 19.3 million tons of cargo moved though the locks in 2008, the report says the actual figure is 7 million.
It adds that because only 7 million tons of cargo travel through the system each year, the same amount could easily be transferred to rail. When broken down into daily shipments, the cargo amounts to two loaded rail units a day.
Report coauthor John C. Taylor, associate professor of supply chain management and director of supply chain programs at Wayne State University in Detroit, says barges could end their journey at the Chicago locks. Their goods, which range from salt to petroleum, could then be transferred to other modes of transportation to continue the remaining few miles of their voyage to the Port of Chicago.
“We do acknowledge there would be negative impacts on the barge industry, and some businesses and some terminals would be adversely affected by closures,” he says.
But he says that after the transportation system adjusts “to new routes, new services and new approaches,” it will be stabilized and new jobs will be created through rail, truck and pipeline channels.
Dr. Taylor and coauthor James Roach, president of J.L. Roach Inc., a transportation consulting firm, are both expert witnesses in Michigan’s Supreme Court lawsuit against Illinois. Both said they were together paid under $50,000 for their research.
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