Chicago – Days before an electric barrier designed to deter
nuisance carp in Illinois waterways was set be activated, officials
suddenly pulled the plug.
Defective cooling pipes are taking the blame.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Jan. 29 that it will
again delay activation of Barrier IIA, which was built in the
Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville nearly three years
Early in January, the Corps said it planned to finally flip the
switch on the project, which has been ready but sitting idle, by
the first week of February. According to a statement by the Corps,
the agency scrapped the activation because of “unforeseen
That issue is confirmed as “bad cooling pipes.” Replacing the
pipes might take a month or two – and the Corps now says the
barrier could be turned on in mid- to late March.
The $9 million barrier could be the last line of defense for
Lake Michigan. Biologists on the state and federal level consider
it to be the best hope to keep Asian carp from invading the Great
A smaller barrier built more than six years ago remains running
and in place, though its effectiveness has been questioned.
A Corps spokesman said maintenance crews became concerned with
the cooling pipes after they de-watered the barrier’s coolant tank
on Jan. 27. Engineers charged with keeping the barrier in
continuous operations recommended defective pipes be replaced prior
to activation and extended use of the barrier.
“The corrosion of the cooling pipes was not anticipated,” the
Corps said in a written statement, adding that the “Corps and other
subject matter experts are examining the situation to ensure
cooling system repairs are completed effectively.”
The Corps’ Chicago District Commander, Vincent Quarles, said he
regrets the delay in activating the new barrier, but he assured a
group of navigation and environmental experts during what was to be
a pre-activation teleconference Jan. 27 that the Corps remains
committed to the electric barrier.
“We want to make sure Barrier IIA runs safely and effectively
and to that end we decided it was prudent to make repairs to the
cooling system now before we put it into full-time operation,”
Quarles, the Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard have for months been
taking heat from governors of the Great Lakes states for delays in
But the Corps has pointed to safety issues – the barrier works
by firing powerful jolts of electricity into the water. Their
safety problems stem from the fact that the canal is a busy
waterway used by recreational boaters, and the electricity poses a
hazard to people who fall overboard and to barges carrying
The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is an artificial link
between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basin.