Area Firm Works with Army Engineers To Stop Carp
Written by The Business Ledger   
Monday, 06 March 2006 15:42

Foreign species of fish are endangering native waters in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, but a Glen Ellyn firm has partnered with the Army Corp of Engineers to implement a $9.1 million experimental fish barrier to stop this invasion.

The Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal has become the battleground where the state of Illinois, the Great Lakes Council of Governors and the federal government have chosen to wage their war against foreign species, primarily the Asian carp, and their ability to wreak havoc on the local environment.

The waterway links the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River via the Illinois River, where already the Asian carp have begun to infiltrate and become a dominant species.

Asian carp can weigh up to 100 pounds and is known for out-competing indigenous fish for natural resources. The species found its way to the United States when hatchery owners on the lower Mississippi imported the fish for their own operating purposes, but when the river flooded numerous times in the early 1990s many of the carp escaped and have since made their way up the river harming local economies in the process.

Many local fishing communities on the Mississippi have suffered greatly as the native fish have been out-muscled by the carp’s large appetite.

The proposed solution to keep them from moving any further, and eventually into Lake Michigan, is an electronic fish barrier that will theoretically repel fish and keep them from crossing its threshold.

At last recording, the carp are only 22 miles from the site of the barrier in Romeoville.

"No one has really done anything like this before," said Tim Doyle, president of E.P. Doyle & Son, LLC, in Glen Ellyn, which is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to solve the problem. "This has never been done on a scale this large, so it presents a whole new challenge."

A pilot study was done in 2001, not very far from the new site. It proved successful and subsequently the current project was green-lighted.

The equipment used for the project has been patented by Vancouver Wash.-based Smith-Root, Inc., which has used smaller-scale versions of the barrier to corral salmon into fisheries in the northwest.
Smith-Root will monitor the equipment with surveillance cameras at the Romeoville site.

The carp’s possible impact on the Great Lakes region would be devastating to the commercial fishing and sport fishing industries.

"Asian carp have a voracious appetite and compete for the local food sources," said Russ Wennerstrom, project manager for Doyle & Son. "Their effect could be measured in millions, if not billions of dollars lost to the economy."

The barrier will also work to keep foreign fish that have found their way into Lake Michigan through ballast water release on foreign-flagged cargo ships from entering the Mississippi.

The project is no easy undertaking. It consists of both land and underwater construction, and in the murky waters of the canal divers only have 2-3 inches of visibility.

Doyle and Wennerstrom believe that their company received the project because their proposal focused on doing more work on land and a minimal amount of underwater construction.

"We did as much as we could on land," said Wennerstrom. "That cuts costs right there. We assembled the barrier on land and then had them put in place by divers. At the most we only had one or two divers in the water at one time."

The barrier consists of multiple rows of 5-inch by 5-inch pipes, which conduct the electricity, and span the 60-foot canal.

The longest pipes are 40 feet, so an enormous amount of welding was done on site, next to the canal. After the pipes were completed, they were placed in the water by a large crane and guided by divers. This avoided any underwater construction.

The canal was shut down as each pipe was put into place. After a few trial runs, the crew was able to place a pipe in less than an hour with minimal disruption of canal traffic.

The project has taken a year to complete and principal testing has recently begun.

The electric bill for the barrier is estimated at $20,000 each month. That is for a continuous charge, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

While the current is not considered deadly to humans, all persons traveling on the canal will be required to wear life vests while passing through the barrier’s area of influence. The charge could potentially incapacitate swimmers. Warnings will be posted on land and large fences will be erected to keep people out.

Dolye has already put in a proposal for the second phase of construction, which consists of a control center adjacent to the canal. The project will be entirely on land.

If the fish barrier project proves successful, then it will have been a major breakthrough and significant environmental achievement. It is something that Doyle and Wennerstrom are proud to have been a part of.

"This is a great opportunity for us to show what we can do," said Doyle. "We look forward to other projects like this. It’s always nice to do something for the environment."

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