Agencies fish around for carp barrier funds
Written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel   
Sunday, 09 January 2005 03:02
After months of squabbling over who should pay for an electric barrier to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes ...

... last fall the federal government and governors of the eight Great Lakes states finally scrounged together the necessary $9.1 million.

The new Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal barrier should be completed next month, but there is still one very big problem: Nobody seems to have the money to turn it on.

The cost to operate and maintain the barrier is estimated at $20,000 a month. The state of Illinois is the official "sponsor" for the federal project, which is largely funded by the Army Corps of Engineers. That puts Illinois on the hook for the big - and never-ending - monthly electrical bill, but Illinois apparently doesn't have the money.

"Obviously, it's an issue to us, and we've been very concerned. Our strong feeling is that this project is national and international in scope," said Dan Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Illinois, therefore, believes the federal government should pick up the tab, which will run about a quarter million dollars annually, Injerd said.

"All that the corps is saying they're willing to do is operate it during the initial test phase," said Phil Moy, fisheries specialist for the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

That test phase likely would last less than three months, Moy said.

Injerd said there have been at least two bills introduced in Congress that would have provided funding for the barrier's operation and maintenance, but they went nowhere.

Asian carp escaped Southern fish farms more than a decade ago and have been migrating north up the Mississippi River and its tributaries since. Late last year, a dead Asian carp was found about two miles below a temporary carp barrier. The fish was just 35 miles downstream from the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan.

The fear for the Great Lakes is that the bottom-feeding fish, which can grow to 100 pounds, will gobble up the food upon which most every other fish directly or indirectly depends. That includes salmon and trout, which are the big draw for a Great Lakes recreational fishery that annually brings an estimated $4.5 billion into the region.

The temporary barrier was installed in 2002 and has an estimated life of three to five years. Cables that provide its electric current are beginning to erode.

Construction of the permanent barrier, meanwhile, stalled last year when its cost ballooned from about $6 million to more than $9 million. The Great Lakes states, led by Illinois, eventually chipped in, and construction began in fall.

Injerd said the operation and maintenance funding issue should not come as a surprise to anyone.

"This has been an issue ever since (Illinois) agreed to be the local sponsor, going back at least two years," he said.

Paul Doucette, spokesman for Illinois Congresswoman Judy Biggert, said his boss will introduce legislation this year that will seek to clarify the questions surrounding the barrier's long-term operation and maintenance.

Lake Michigan Federation's Joel Brammeier said these funding squabbles will continue to pop up until the federal government commits to a long-term program to keep Asian carp out of the lakes.

Moy, meanwhile, is not panicked about the situation, but he hopes the funding will be found soon.

"We're really getting down to the wire here," he said.

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