Survey shows strong support for closing Minneapolis locks

St. Paul — Minnesota voters are aware of and concerned about Asian carp, and regardless of political stripe, the majority support closing locks on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis to prevent their northward spread.

That’s according to a poll of 404 registered voters released last week by the Stop Carp Coalition, which is pushing for lock closure.

“Asian carp have the potential to do great damage to commercial and recreational fishing, which are worth billions of dollars a year to Minnesota’s economy,” said Lance Ness, president of Anglers for Habitat. “The threat to jobs and the economy is greater if we do not act. We have solutions to this problem. It is time to use them.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the locks, and closing them requires an act of Congress.

According to the poll, 63 percent of those surveyed favor a proposal “to create a physical barrier to stop the carp by closing the locks, or gate, in the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.” Support among Democrats and Republicans was 66 percent; it was 59 percent among independents.

Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation have been active in pushing for lock closure.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., for example, added an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that would close the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock within a year. The Senate has passed that bill, but the House has yet to take it up. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has a bill in the House that also would result in lock closure, though the process by which it could occur is more complex. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing on the bill late last month.

“This legislation is a zero-cost, proactive approach to invasive carp prevention and management efforts in Minnesota, simultaneously protecting a vital industry while saving government dollars that would go to carp management programs if these fish invade northern Minnesota waters,” Ellison said. “… We must act immediately in order to protect lakes and rivers that are integral to recreation and small businesses throughout the state.”

Minnesota Reps. Erik Paulsen (R), Tim Walz (D), and Rick Nolan (D) are co-sponsors of Ellison’s bill.

Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, said most groups support the language in the Senate bill, given it makes closing the lock less cumbersome. But he believes the action in both the House and Senate this year amounts to momentum for the idea of closure.

“This could happen federally by the end of September,” he said. “It would take a bolt of lightning, but it could happen.”

There’s also an effort under way at the state level to stop traffic through the locks. A variety of conservation organizations have met with state officials, who have spoken with officials from the two businesses that use system to travel upriver.

Canoers, kayakers, and other recreational boaters have been asked to curtail use of the locks.

But if those businesses are to stop using the locks, voters – according to the poll – aren’t excited about using tax dollars to help defray the cost. The poll found 42 percent of respondents supported using “tax dollars to help businesses use trucks and trains instead of boats to move goods through Minneapolis to avoid opening the gate and potentially letting carp through.” Just more than half of Democrats (53 percent) supported the proposal; majorities of Republicans and independents did not.

Even as the effort to close the lock goes on, the Minnesota DNR is moving forward with an effort to place a sweeping electrical deterrent barrier there.

Supporters of lock closure say closing it would nullify the need for an electrical barrier there.

“Once the lock is closed, then we can focus our efforts on additional strategies to protect our waters downstream by installing deterrents at other locks in order to slow the spread of Asian carp and continue to support research to fight this threat,” said Christine Goepfert, upper Midwest program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. 

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