FORT WAYNE – The Army Corps of Engineers says it has heard from 1,800 people, organizations and government agencies on its proposals for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
At least four people from northeast Indiana, including U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman and the chief operating officer of Steel Dynamics Inc., weighed in during a recent public comment period for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study Report.
Fort Wayne is considered a crucial site for halting the spread of Asian carp because Eagle Marsh eventually drains into the Mississippi and Lake Erie. But this report focused on preventing the huge, voracious fish and other invasive creatures from swimming into Lake Michigan through Chicago.
In a summary of public comments released last week, the Army Corps found:
- 98 percent of people expressed support for the need to control aquatic nuisance species
- 40 percent favored installing physical barriers to keep invasive species out of Lake Michigan
- 35 percent favored controls that would leave the Chicago Area Waterway System open to vessels, including barges
“The summary shows the complexities inherent in the study, and that no clear consensus has been reached,” wrote Sarah Gross, spokeswoman for the Army Corps' Chicago district, in an email.
Gross said the agency “knew that there was a strong interest in maintaining navigable waterways from various groups, which is why we found it important to travel to cities like St. Louis and New Orleans to provide for an opportunity for public comment.”
Still, the Army Corps reported that more than half of comments originated from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. The comment period lasted from January through March and featured 11 public hearings, including one in the northwest Indiana city of Portage.
The Army Corps took note of organized signature campaigns by two environmental groups advocating for the physical separation of Chicago's waterways from Lake Michigan.
More than 2,300 people signed form letters from the Sierra Club, while Clean Wisconsin submitted an online petition signed by more than 5,000 people.
The Army Corps has issued eight proposals for controlling Asian carp at Chicago, ranging from sustaining current activities, which include electric fences and commercial harvesting of the fish; to building a series of locks, reservoirs, gates and water treatment plants; to installing physical barriers that would separate waterways. Projected construction costs would climb as high as $18.4 billion.
Richard Teets, president and chief operating officer for steel operations of Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics Inc., wrote in a March 31 letter to the Army Corps that “solutions are available that will allow for the safe and efficient movement of essential maritime cargoes from the river system to the Lakes while providing the appropriate controls to prevent the spread of” aquatic nuisance species.
Teets urged the Army Corps to consider the economic effects of all its proposals. The hydrological separation of Chicago-area waterways “will certainly serve to increase the cost of doing business for many entities, including ours, serving to make our company and the regional company less competitive,” he wrote.
The Great Lakes and Mississippi report estimates that waterway separation could cost commercial cargo shippers more than $200 million a year. Non-separation proposals would cost them less than $9 million a year.
Nineteen members of Congress from Indiana and Illinois – 15 Republicans and four Democrats – sent a letter March 21 to the Army Corps citing a DePaul University study that forecast a 20-year, $4.7 billion economic loss for the Chicago area if waterway barriers were to stop the flow of commercial traffic.
The lawmakers, who include Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., cited “economic inefficiencies” for companies having to use land transportation rather than a barge that can carry dozens of truckloads of freight.
“Such a measure would have a profound adverse effect on Illinois, Indiana, and states throughout the region and might still allow Asian carp to reach the Great Lakes during construction,” estimated to take 25 years, the lawmakers wrote.
Bruce Cox, a vice president of TransWorks, a Fort Wayne-based transportation management company, signed a March 13 letter urging the Army Corps to reject proposals that would completely or partly separate the waterways.
James Thompson of Fort Wayne, who did not describe his occupation, submitted a March 16 letter identical to a portion of Cox's correspondence.
More comments came from northwest Ohio, with many of them supporting waterways separation.
“We don't need another invasive species in Lake Erie, the zebra mussels are bad enough,” was the comment of David L. Bolman of Leipsic, Ohio.
But Patrick W. Smith of the Toledo area suggested that the Army Corps offer $1 billion in bounties on Asian carp, paying $100 for every fish that is caught.
“That should solve the problem and create new fishing opportunities for the Great Lakes,” he told the Army Corps on Jan. 10.
The agency's Gross said the comments will provide Congress “with a snapshot of the region's sentiment regarding the various alternative control plans.”
She said that until consensus is reached on a plan, the Army Corps will continue to operate electric barriers in waterways and track carp populations.