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Invasive carp barrier could be delayed because Illinois has yet to sign agreement with U.S. Corps of Engineers

The carp barrier to be built at Joliet, Illinois will use various deterrents in an effort to keep invasive silver, bighead, black, and grass carp out of the Great Lakes.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The carp barrier to be built at Joliet, Illinois will use various deterrents in an effort to keep invasive silver, bighead, black, and grass carp out of the Great Lakes.

The Army Corps of Engineers is set to start building a barrier near Chicago to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. The $1.3 billion project is schedule to begin next October.

But, there’s a problem.

Michigan and Illinois have agreed to pay $114 million of the cost of what’s called the Brandon Road Interbasin Project.

But, Illinois still has not signed a Project Partnership agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers. That agreement would make Illinois, the host state, responsible for problems that arise such as environmental cleanups.

That’s a particularly sticky issue because property needed for the Brandon Road project is on land that was part of a power plant complex that once burned coal.

“One of the big concerns that Illinois has raised is they would need property that Midwest generation owns. And they're concerned about contaminants on that property,” said Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer and vice president for Programs of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The silver carp is one of four invasive carp that have caused havoc in the Mississippi River system. $1.3 billion dollars or more will be spent to attempt to stop the carp from invading the Great Lakes.
USGS
The silver carp is one of four invasive carp that have caused havoc in the Mississippi River system. $1.3 billion dollars or more will be spent to attempt to stop the carp from invading the Great Lakes.

“So they're worried about there being pollution that would make it expensive for Illinois to clean up in order to be able to use it to build the project,” Flanagan added.

Environmentalists thought the toughest part of the carp barrier project would be getting the federal funds and the share of the cost the states would have to bear.

“But it actually turns out that this agreement has been a lot harder to achieve,” Flanagan said.

The Brandon Road project barrier would be a series of deterrents at a river lock at Joliet, downstream from Lake Michigan. There’s concern that if any of the invasive carp, including bighead, silver, black, and grass carp were to get into the Great Lakes, it would cause massive damage to the ecosystem of the lakes and the region’s rivers, ruining fishing and other activities in the lakes.

While there are other opportunities for the carp to find their way into the lakes, those scenarios would special circumstances such as flooding between river tributaries and the Great Lakes basin.

“The other place where invasive carp could enter the Great Lakes are intermittent, so they’re not always open,” Flanagan explained, adding, the only place where there’s a continual connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin is the canals and rivers system at Chicago.

For every month that Illinois does not sign the agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, more time is lost and the projected start date could be delayed.

The carp were originally imported to the United States to be used in aquafarming in Southern states, primarily catfish farms. There was great concern by northern states that the fish would escape the ponds and cause environmental damage. States such as Mississippi assured the Fish and Wildlife Service and the other states along the Mississippi River system that the fish would not be a problem. That turned out to be an overly-optimistic projection.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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