Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has filed a new motion with the US Supreme Court asking for an immediate injunction to close Chicago-area locks because the Court did not have all the information (ie that Carp eDNA was already in Lake Michigan) when they rejected the first motion. In addition, a study by Wayne State University transportation experts draws serious doubts over Illinois’ claim that even a temporary closure of the locks would devastate the local economy.
Cox has seized on the revelation that new eDNA evidence that the Asian carp were in Lake Michigan was available three days before the Supreme Court made it’s decision, but was not released to the public until after the Court denied the injunction. Apparently, in earlier legal filings the Feds and Illinois promised to “revisit the conclusions related to lock closure” if new information became available. Cox is hanging this latest attempt on these words.
Michigan is supported in this suit by Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Ontario in Canada. But the Supreme Court still has not decided to hear the case and if they do it won’t happen until late February – in the meantime, it is essential that those locks are closed since they are the major entryway for the Asian carp into the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Illinois has the support of the Obama Administration in their effort to keep the locks open. They have argued that closing them – even temporarily while the court makes their decision – would force them to lose millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. But a new report, Chicago Waterway System Ecological Separation: The Logistics and Transportation Related Cost Impact of Waterway Barriers by John Taylor, PhD and James Roach – transportation experts at Wayne State University – found that these claims were “seriously exaggerated.” Taylor finds that the annual cost of closure would amount to $70 million and not $190 million as Illinois claims.
And they aren’t the only ones exaggerating! On a recent PBS NewsHour broadcast, Del Wilkins of Illinois Marine Towing told reporters that the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal system moves 16.9 million tons of cargo. This is sharply contrasted by the study that found that in 2008 only 39 “loaded barges” used the Chicago Lock carrying 105,000 tons of cargo. Maybe Wilkins was talking about a century’s worth of deliveries and not one year.
Experts also said that a barrier at the Chicago Lock would have little effect on shippers on the North and South Branches of the Chicago River. “The large majority of cargo to these shippers passes through the CSSC and would be unaffected by the closure of either the Chicago or O’Brien locks.” In fact, the canal system would largely remain open to barge traffic after a lock closure – even so – it must be noted that cargo that runs through the O’Brien Lock has been down in recent years by 45 percent. Cox points out that this shows it is a industry in decline and isn’t as significant to Chicago’s $521 billion economy as some would have us think.
Some (in the barge industry) have argued that trucks and rail wouldn’t have the capacity to move cargo as efficiently, but this study finds that truck traffic would only increase by 1/10 of 1 percent while closing the locks would bring jobs to the region as new modes of transporting goods – like trucking – would be necessary.
In every Great Lakes state the effort to stop the Asian carp has been bipartisan – another example of the extent of this crisis to our region’s economy. When President Obama introduced the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2009 he pledged zero tolerance for new invasive species. (That is literally the only statement we have from the President on Asian carp.) So why is his US Solicitor General Elena Kagan supporting the state of Illinois and their exaggerated economic statistics? Especially when even the bloated dollar signs Illinois is pushing do not come anywhere near the billions of lost dollars the eight state region and Canada will suffer if the Asian carp are allowed to populate the Great Lakes.