No Lock Closure – Army Corps releases locks plan for dealing with Asian carp

(reprint – Associated Press)

The Army Corps of Engineers has scrapped a proposal to close navigational shipping locks in the Chicago waterway system as many as four days a week to prevent migration of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

The Corps, however, is recommending temporary lock closures at times when biologists use fish poisons or other methods to search for carp in the well-traveled shipping corridors.

These recommendations were released Thursday as part of a three-year study into the state’s and federal government’s handling of the Asian carp crisis. The study looked at six scenarios for lock operation, including restricting boat and ship travel to three days a week or three weeks out of a month. In the end, Army Corps officials determined neither partial lock closure plan would prove much of a deterrent to Asian carp.

“(O)ut of the six alternatives considered by the Risk Assessment Panel, there was no alternative or combination of alternatives that the panel members determined would lower the risk of Asian carp establishing a self-sustaining population in Lake Michigan to an acceptable level,” the report states. “In other words, there was not a high probability that recommending regularly scheduled closures would reduce the risk.”

The results were something of a mixed blessing for shipping and boating industry experts who had warned of the devastating financial impact to the Chicago region if the Army Corps restricted boat and ship traffic to only a few days a week.

Business will likely continue as scheduled through the busy spring and summer cargo season on the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, the primary waterway linking the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.

However, the Army Corps’ analysis indicates the likelihood of more lock closures in the coming months as biologists continue to track down and eradicate Asian carp in local waterways. Last month, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed the O’Brien Lock and Dam in the Cal-Sag Channel for a week while crews cleaned up the remains of another massive fish kill aimed at locating Asian carp. Approximately 100,000 pounds of dead fish were recovered, but no Asian carp.

Closing the lock resulted in shipping delays and increased costs for many cargo haulers moving between the lake and the Illinois River, industry officials said.

Asian carp is a voracious invasive species that has steadily moved up the Illinois River toward Lake Michigan for the last decade. Fears about Asian carp infiltrating Lake Michigan prompted six Great Lakes states last year to sue Illinois to try and force closure of shipping locks in the Cal-Sag Channel and at the mouth of the Chicago River. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the dispute, saying it was a matter for lower courts to decide.

DNA samples collected from the Cal-Sag Channel and inside the outer rim of Lake Michigan indicate the presence of Asian carp within striking distance of the Great Lakes. But after weeks of intense searching, an Asian carp has yet to be seen or caught there, raising questions about the validity of the DNA research.

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Category: MCBA News