By Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press
The Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that rather than wait for studies to be completed in 2015 or 2016 on the best plan for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, it will present a menu of options to Congress -- and the public -- late next year and let them decide.
By doing so, the Corps, at least in part, heeds recent calls for quicker action in response to the threat posed by the voracious carp and worries that it could spread from the Mississippi River and into the Great Lakes. Last month, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to require the Corps to finish its plan by July 2014, and two Michigan members of Congress -- U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Midland, a Republican -- introduced legislation forcing the Corps to submit an expedited plan.
Giving Congress an array of possibilities to choose from may or may not result in a speedier process, of course, with even routine legislation sometimes getting stuck between the House and the Senate. But giving Congress several feasible means of controlling Asian carp from reaching the lakes at least should expedite the public and political debate over what to do and how to fund it.
"We're pretty excited we're going to be able to move things along a little more quickly than we anticipated," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.
Darcy couldn't say how many choices would be put before Congress and the public, only that the list would include the most feasible for ensuring that Asian carp -- an invasive species introduced into the U.S. -- do not reach the lakes, where the fear is they could do tremendous ecological damage. Last week, power failed for 13 minutes at an electronic barrier operated on a manmade canal near Chicago, though officials say they believe Asian carp are well south of there and did not breach the barrier.
Darcy said there are 18 other possible points of entry to the lakes and the study will look at how to ensure each is secure. Already, the Obama administration has spent $150 million to keep Asian carp from spreading to the Great Lakes.
Both Stabenow and Camp praised the move by the Corps, with Stabenow saying, "Having action moved years ahead of schedule is a very positive development." If there are future problems with the electronic barrier on the Chicaco Sanitary and Ship Canal, however, expect even greater pressure on the Corps to conclude its study.
"Last week's temporary failure of the electric barriers shows we need to begin implementing a permanent solution as soon as possible," Camp said.
In December, the Corps said it could take until 2016 to finish its study after laying out about 90 possible means of killing, maiming or otherwise repelling invasive species such as the Asian carp. Among the possibilities were fish poisons, light or sound pulses, electric jolts and altering the genetic makeup of fish so they couldn't produce offspring. Darcy said the report to Congress next year will include any alternatives "we think are going to be feasible."
Earlier this year, the Great Lakes Commission released a report outlining three ways in which Chicago-area waterways could be closed off from the Great Lakes, though the recommended solution -- physically separating them from the lakes -- would cost more than $3 billion and take at least 10 years to finish. It's also in question whether such a change would get the support of Illinois legislators.
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