Plans to keep an invasive fish species, the Asian carp, out of Lake Michigan by closing two locks on a canal running to the Mississippi River have run into opposition from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbying groups.
Michigan’s attorney general has filed suit to close off the connection in an attempt to prevent the spread of the voracious carp. Minnesota and Ohio are also backing the suit, and this week the attorneys general of Wisconsin and Indiana filed briefs in support as well.
The states fear that the carp could cause “an ecological and economic disaster” by devastating the ecosystem of the lakes and the fishing and tourism which depend on them and believe that urgent action must be taken until more long-term solutions are worked out. The suit, which requires the setting aside of a century-old legal decision, is due to be heard next week by the US Supreme Court.
Business groups, however, are warning that the closing would interfere with commerce and “could inflate prices for agricultural commodities and other goods, including materials used in infrastructure projects tied to the federal stimulus package.”
The executive vice president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce told the Wall Street Journal that diverting shipments from barges onto the roads could cost the corn industry along $500 million. The Chamber is calling for more “inventive solutions.”
The Lansing State Journal, however, points out that the problem with the carp has been known for years without decisive action being taken. “In early 2004, the Army Corps of Engineers said it couldn’t find the money in its budget to help with work on a barrier in the key Chicago canal,” the paper reports. Even though Congress voted $9 million to finish the electric barrier, it was still not operational by 2008.
An article published in 2007 explains that “the carp were introduced to clean southern catfish farms in the seventies, and escaped into the Mississippi; now they make up 95% by weight of all the animal matter in parts of the Mississippi and have devastated other fisheries. It has moved far enough north that it is getting near the Chicago ship and Sanitary channel. … A sixteen million dollar, permanent double fence with backup power is half built, but it went over budget and the US and Illinois governments are squabbling over who will pick up the tab or pay the power bill.”
Now it seems that the states have finally concluded that the problem is too urgent to wait any longer before taking action — but business interests still believe it would be economically prudent to take more time to study the matter.