Saturday, January 16, 2010

IL Senator Durbin Briefing On Asian Carp Control

Jan 12: U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) hosted a briefing by Federal, state and local officials regarding the containment of Asian carp in Illinois. Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the City of Chicago, the Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources all provided perspectives on the current situation, further mitigation options, and likely next steps.

According to a release from Senator Durbin, Asian carp threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem because they consume large quantities of phytoplankton, which is critical to the stability of the ecosystem. The fish can grow to an average of four feet and 60 pounds, and can consume up to 40 percent of their body weight in plankton per day. Durbin and Biggert indicated they have a long history of working together to combat the spread of Asian carp and outlined their efforts in securing funding for the electric Asian Carp Barrier project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which has received $41.2 million in federal funding since 1998.

Durbin said, “We don’t know yet what course of action will ensure that these carp don’t reach the Lake, but we do know that every level of government is committed to restoring and protecting our Great Lakes. Today’s meeting is just one step on our path of working together to establish and implement a long-term, comprehensive Asian carp containment plan.” If the carp reach Lake Michigan, they have the potential to damage the economy and ecosystem of the Great Lakes region, where the fishing industry alone is valued at $7 billion annually. Yet the community and economic implications of closing the locks of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal must be considered. The shipping industry used the canal to move nearly 7 million tons of cargo in 2008 through tens of thousands of vessel passages, and the Army Corps estimates that closing the O’Brien lock alone would back-flood 14,000 homes.

Durbin said, “If you ask the people in the Chicago area what they treasure most about the area, most of them will put Lake Michigan at the top of the list. Not only does Lake Michigan provide entertainment and recreation year round, it supports industry -- primarily fishing and shipping. We need to protect the ecological and economic well-being of this treasured resource.”

In its brief opposing Michigan's request for a Preliminary Injunction, the State of Illinois indicates that "there are no alternate water routs for shipping and delivering cargo and there are not enough trucks and train cars to haul the freight that passes through the waterways. One barge typically has a dry-cargo capacity of a least 16 rails cars and a liquid-cargo capacity of 46 rail cars, and some 500,000 additional truck loads would be needed to move the amount of cargo currently hauled by barges on the Canal each year.

"And even if trucks and rail cars were available, the financial and environmental cost of substituting rail or truck transportation for waterway transport would be devastating in terms of increased emissions of hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. Substituting rail and truck transportation for commercial navigation would also lead to untenable congestion on the rails and roads, raise the cost of maintaining roadways... and cause increased traffic fatalities. Michigan's efforts to downplay the economic impact that will result if its request for preliminary relief is granted, as well as its silence of the public health effects associated with even a temporary closure of the locks and sluice gates, cannot disguise the fact that neither the balance of equities nor the public interest weighs in Michigan's favor."

The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to take up the lawsuit January 15, 2010. Reportedly, the justices will review the legal briefs -- but a ruling is not expected until later. The Michigan case, filed by Attorney General Mike Cox, would reopen an old case from the Supreme Court 1966 term, an “Original” lawsuit i.e. filed directly with no lower court activity -- the docket is termed Original Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Since filing his suit on December 21, 2009 [
See WIMS 1/4/10], Cox has been joined by the states of Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin and the Province of Ontario.

Access a release from Senator Durbin (
click here). Access a video from the briefing (click here). Access the Michigan, Illinois and all legal filings in the case (click here).