Public reacts to federal invasive species study
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent February 11, 2014 9:16PM
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (right) speaks with Michael Beauchamp of the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission, about his plan for the Washington to give grants to states for getting rid of the invasive Asian Carp, at the State Police auditorium in Portage, IND. on 2/11/14. | John Booz/for the Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 12, 2014 2:01AM
PORTAGE — Nearly 50 people gathered Tuesday at the first public hearing in Indiana on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that offers eight alternatives to stopping aquatic invaders, including the Asian carp, from wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system.
Public comments were taken following the presentation at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission headquarters in Portage.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study looks at the cost of controlling the risk of aquatic nuisance species between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River system through five transfer points in the Chicago area, two of which are in Indiana.
The eight options range from continuing the present course of action, which involves electric fish barriers installed in the rivers, to completely separating the Mississippi River watershed from the Great Lakes watershed, at a potential cost of over $18 billion and 25 years of work.
The study identifies 254 aquatic nuisance species in the study area. Only 13 are considered a significant threat and the study targets these for control.
While the focus in the past has been on Asian carp overtaking Lake Michigan, the study makes clear that the threat works in both directions — from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan and from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller was first to speak after the presentation. He suggested a ninth alternative — providing federal funds to the states to help alleviate the existing problem of invasive fish in inland waterways.
Zoeller said Indiana rivers, notably the Wabash and White, are already infested with Asian carp and present a problem today, not a potential problem tomorrow.
“My proposal is a simple one: use some of the federal funds already enacted or eventually approved to establish grants for the Great Lakes states,” Zoeller said.
Lynn Dennis representing the Nature Conservancy called for a shorter time frame to solve the problem.
“We are concerned with the potential 25-year timetable for the proposed barrier solutions,” she said.
The study acknowledges that due to the proposed time frame, some invasive species may jump from one watershed to the other and become established before adequate controls are installed.
Calling for a complete separation of the two water systems, Dennis advocated an interim two-way separation project that could be implemented, “in a matter of years, not decades.”
Michael Beauchamp, from Wabash, claimed to be intimately familiar with the Asian carp when one jumped out of the river and hit him in the face. He called the money spent on the study “a Chicago jobs bill” and wanted to see a broader study covering more waterways, “to spread the money around.”
Longtime Northwest Indiana environmentalist Lee Botts called for the complete separation of the two waterways, “not just due to invasive species but to force compliance on the city of Chicago with the Clean Water Act.”
She wanted to see the separation proceed as quickly as possible but noted that alternatives needed to be developed to address the transportation of bulk commodities that take place on Lake Michigan through the river system to the Mississippi.
John Kindra, owner of Chicago-based Kindra Lake Towing, was one of the few to speak out against separating the water basins. Kindra said transporting commodities by land rather than barge could add more than 1,300 trucks to highways.
He also called for more study of alternative technologies such as poisons that selectively target fish species, noting one poison is activated by Asian carp enzymes but passes harmlessly through a bass.
Kindra also said the breeding population of Asian carp appeared to have stopped moving north about seven years ago and remains centered about 100 miles south of the Chicago area.
Col. Frederic Drummond Jr., commander of the Chicago District of the Army Corps of Engineers later corrected Kindra and said the population of breeding Asian carp appears to have stopped its northward migration about eight years ago and remain about 143 miles away.
Drummond told the audience that, to date, “they have found no evidence of passage of Asian carp through the barriers,” but he called the issue, “a very difficult and complex topic.”
At the close of the meeting, Drummond, noting the heritage of the Army Corp of Engineers, said, “We are going to create solutions. It is within our means to control.”
In searching for any solution to the problem of invasive species, John Goss, Asian carp director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, appealed to the audience: “We need your help.”