In the midst of back-to-back snowstorm that have disabled Washington, several members of the House Transportation Committee met for a hearing on the Asian Carp crisis.
But even though the audience was small, the news was not – the Federal Government is strongly considering permanently separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins as a long-term solution to the carp crisis. In the short term, the Army Corps refuses to shut the locks until they have been able to complete a study of the impact of doing so, not just on the carp and the lakes but on the local economy and barge industry.
“If we were to close the locks they would need to be shown effective as impediments to Asian carp movement. We are actively studying whether we should close them but we need a vast amount of information on impacts and consequences. This is a very complex issue there are orders of magnitude impact that we cannot understand until we complete our studies,” US Army Corps General John Peabody answered Rep. Jim Oberstar (DFL-Minn.), Chair of the T&I Committee.
“We would highly recommend we exhaust every other option before we look at the effects of closing the locks,” responded Del Wilkins, VP of Canal Barge Company Inc. who testified for the American Waterways Operators. Wilkins spent the hearing in damage control mode in an effort to ensure barge operators stay in business. This became more difficult after Joel Brammeier of the Alliance for the Great Lakes testified that the volume of cargo traffic that needs to move from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes is less than one percent and therefore fairly insignificant in comparison to the economic damage the carp will leave in their wake.
“These next few years are a tremendous opportunity,” Brammeier told Rep. Oberstar. “This is a great time to be thinking big and what we need to do not just in the short term to deal with the carp but how we can make change in the long term,” he said in an effort to push basin separation.
“Ecological separation is a huge game changer,” Wilkins opined. “It would eliminate a lot of jobs, not just in the barge industry.”
But Michigan Officials are still fighting to close the locks. After the White House Summit on Monday, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm promised to continue the legal challenge to close the locks and called on the Federal Government to think more long-term. At the hearing, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Rebecca Humphries reiterated that the state won’t be satisfied unless the locks are closed and a permanent separation is erected. “What is at the crux of this is where are we going with the long term. Is our goal to physically separate these watersheds or is it not? Because it does make a difference as to how we address this in the short term. We do not feel that continuing the operate the lock structure and poisoning off those waters on a regular basis is a sustainable strategy.”
One of the more telling points made during the hearing was by Great Lakes Czar Cam Davis. When asked if the right authorities and legislative structures were in place to deal with this problem he replied, “the real question on the table is, have we been able to act fast enough, and the clear answer is no, we haven’t.