Will 2018 be the year of a carp strategy in Illinois, Great Lakes?

Springfield — A state senator from an Illinois river community has some problems with leaders from other states who want to close the Illinois River to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Morris Republican Sue Rezin has fought floods her entire time in the Legislature. She said the attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota must not understand much about floods. Those AG’s want to wall off the Illinois River near Joliet to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

“You always need to be cognizent of what’s happening upstream from you,” Rezin said. “Also, if you dam up the river, what will it do to the ecosystem in the river?”

Rezin answered her own question. She said it would spill the river south, into communities up and down the banks. Illinois has spent a lot of time and money on flood mitigation along the Illinois River. She said a dam would erase all of that work.

And, Rezin added, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in grain and other products that rely on the river.

“You’ll notice all of these industries that have popped up along the river. They use the river as a mode of transportation, it’s by far the cheapest and most inexpensive mode of transportation,” Rezin said. “If you simply build a wall near Joliet, all of that river commerce would be forced to cease.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to protect the lakes. The Corps wants to install an electronic barrier near Joliet, but it’s expensive. The total cost would be nearly $300 million and Illinois would have to pay almost a third of it.

But Rezin thinks that expense may not be necessary. She said that DNR has done an effective job over the past few years in controlling the carp population in the upper Illinois River.

Attorneys general in three Great Lakes states want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ditch an expensive Illinois Waterway lock redesign and simply close the shipping conduit entirely to keep Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan.

Closing the Brandon Road Lock & Dam on the Des Plaines River with a permanent concrete wall would cost about $5.9 million, compared to the $275 million “flushing lock” project Army Corps is proposing to finish by 2025, the group argued in a joint letter.

Republican Bill Schuette, Michigan attorney general, joined Democrat counterparts Lori Swanson of Minnesota and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania to call for closing the Brandon Road lock – a bottleneck in the Chicago waterway system that’s become the focal point in the debate about how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

The three attorneys submitted the letter as a formal comment on the Army Corps’ so-called Brandon Road plan, which includes a new electric barrier, a new “flushing lock” that would deter fish with noise cannons and a re-engineered shipping channel with water jets.

Environmental groups have expressed lukewarm support for the plan even though it allows for a 10 to 17 percent chance silver and bighead carp could move upstream through the gauntlet and become established in Lake Michigan.

Inland barge operators and the Illinois state government oppose the plan as an unnecessary and costly burden to shipping traffic.

Any work wouldn’t begin for several years, assuming the Trump administration and Congress approve and fund the project.

Swanson, Schuette and Shapiro argue the plan is inherently flawed because it disregards the cheapest, quickest and most effective means of halting spread of the invasive fish — closing the lock, which, they say, could begin almost immediately by closing the gates.

The group cites an analysis co-authored by Wayne State University supply chain management professor John C. Taylor and East Lansing transportation consultant James Roach that concludes the Corps overstates the economic impact of closing the dam, which the Corps determined would hit shippers and bulk producers with $318 million in “lost transportation cost.”

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