Goodbye $8 million.
On his way out the door as governor, Bruce Rauner spurned an $8 million offer from the outgoing governor of Michigan to help pay for keeping invasive Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, saying he wanted the money earlier than Michigan was offering to give it.
Yes, that $8 million would have been only a drop in the environmental protection bucket, compared with the estimated cost of nearly $778 million needed to create a barrier at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam along the Des Plaines River near Joliet. But it would have represented an urgently needed step forward instead of more foot-dragging on a project that should already be underway.
It’s too late to get the $8 million, because former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is now out of office. But the incoming Illinois administration of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker should start working right away with other Great Lakes states to build up support for this project and work out an equitable way for the states to pay their fair share. Much of the cost will be borne by the federal government.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to add an electric barrier at the Brandon Road dam to repel or stun the carp and install flushing jets and underwater speakers to persuade the carp to stay downstream. But the plan is moving ahead more slowly than a gravel barge, including a six-month delay last year in releasing a draft of the plan and a recent 60-day extension of the public comment period. Existing electric barriers and increased commercial fishing have stopped Asian carp so far, but they are not expected to do so indefinitely. It’s time to speed things up.
Asian carp are a big threat to the economy and quality of life in the Great Lakes region. If they get by the existing barriers, they could undermine the $7 billion fishing industry and the $16 billion tourism industry. The Great Lakes provide some of the best drinking water in the world for 35 million people, contain 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and are simply a place of beauty, from windswept dunes to vast expanses of blue water.
Asian carp working their way up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers already have harmed fisheries, injured boaters — they leap from the water like crazy — and taken a bite out of the bottom lines of businesses that cater to fishing and tourism. A carp invasion would put our economy, our outdoor experiences and way of life of risk. The economic cost would be far greater than the price tag of improving the defenses at Brandon Road. If the carp make their way into Lake Michigan, it’s unlikely we will be able to get them out.
Opponents of the plan say the cost is too high. What they don’t point out is that a significant part of the work — updating aging locks, improving stormwater management and repairing crumbling shoreline stabilization — has to be done anyway to maintain the waterways. Moreover, environmentalists say the Army Corps’ track record shows the agency will find ways to bring down costs significantly.
The Trump administration clearly sides with those who think protecting the Great Lakes isn’t worth the cost. Last week, the administration proposed letting more mercury pollution from coal-fired plants work its way into the water, harming fish and the people who eat them.
Illinois, under its new leadership, must take a stand as a strong voice for the lakes. Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio have new political leadership that is more friendly to the environment. Let’s make them allies in protecting the aquatic gems we have inherited.
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