Michigan members of Congress visit Asian carp ‘choke point’

By: - July 1, 2019 5:42 pm
Asian carp

Crews search for invasive Asian carp near Chicago , Aug. 2, 2011, following several recent discoveries of their genetic material in Lake Calumet. Teams swept the lake with half-mile-long nets. Six boats from government agencies and four commercial fishing vessels took part the search. No Asian carp were found. | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Jessica Vandrick,

A bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers on Monday toured a critical “choke point” stopping invasive Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan.

Michigan congressional delegation members
Michigan delegation members highlight a critical project to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, IL. | U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), along with U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), John Moolenaar (R-Midland), Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester) toured the facility with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineers Todd Semonite, Brigadier General Richard Neely and other state and federal officials.

The Monday visit gave members of Congress a chance to see the Brandon Road Lock in northern Illinois firsthand, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to thwart invasive carp.

In May the corps signed a “chief’s report” for the project, outlining a list of technologies meant to stop carp from entering the lake. The list included a channel, air bubble curtain and electric and sound barriers through which the troublesome fish are zapped, clanged and halted into submission.

“Our bipartisan delegation is fully committed to moving as quickly as possible with a permanent solution to stop Asian carp from devastating our Great Lakes,” Stabenow said in a statement. “This was an important visit to see the project site firsthand and also meet with the Army Corps to discuss the next action items to get this project underway.”

Upton said in a statement that Asian carp “threaten irreversible damages to our $43 billion fishing, boating and tourism industries” and that their proliferation would “ruin the Great Lakes for generations to come.”

Fred Upton
U.S.. Rep. Fred Upton | Andrew Roth

The bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the Army Corps to complete the project as quickly as possible.

Michigan officials have criticized the Army corps in the past for the project’s ballooning cost and development time. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker have both expressed concern over the estimated $778 million construction cost, which includes a contribution of $272 million from Illinois taxpayers.

The estimated cost for the fish barrier technologies has more than doubled from an original estimate of roughly $275 million. The increase stems mostly from “contingency” costs.

Illinois still needs to sign an agreement with the Army Corps for pre-construction, engineering and project design before it can move forward. Although Pritzker signed off on the project’s launch in April, the Illinois governor warned that he could not support the full plan unless costs come down.

Whitmer said in an April tweet that she applauded Pritzker “for taking decisive action … to protect our Great Lakes from Asian carp.”

Whitmer, DNR chief question Army Corps’ Asian carp plan

Whitmer also questioned the rising costs in a late February letter to Joseph Redican, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planning chief. She noted that the state’s tourism industry and hundreds of thousands of jobs “depend on the preservation of our water” against the carp.

At a December meeting at the White House before she was sworn in as governor, Whitmer spoke with President Donald Trump about the Asian carp threat. Whitmer and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine later petitioned Trump again about the Great Lakes, as she told the Advance.

Whitmer talks roads, Asian carp with Trump at White House meeting

Construction for the new barriers isn’t expected to be finished until 2028.

The Great Lakes support a $7 billion fishing industry, a $16 billion boating industry and a $20 billion tourism industry.

Dingell said in a statement “We must continue to work together in the Congress to determine our next actions, both at the federal and state levels, and to ensure this project receives the proper federal authorization and funding it needs to be completed without delay.”

Slotkin, in a statement, said the visit “drove home just how important it is to keep Asian carp out of our Great Lakes.”

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.