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EDITORIAL: Every new delay makes it more likely Asian carp will invade Lake Michigan

A tow boat waits to pass upriver through the Brandon Road Locks after cutting it's string of barges so the first half could fit into the lock. | Sun-Times Library

A plan to build a new barrier to help keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan has run into one delay after another. Now, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking for another timeout.

We understand the delay, but let’s hope it’s short. The health of our lake depends on it.

Invasive Asian carp species have been working their way up from the Mississippi River for years, harming fisheries along the way and, when they leap from the water, injuring boaters. If the voracious fish sneak past existing barriers, which are not seen as a permanent solution, they could undermine the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry and the $16 billion tourism industry.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to bolster the defenses against the Asian carp, which have included a successful effort to reduce their numbers through commercial fishing, by building an additional barrier at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Des Plaines River two miles southwest of Joliet. But the barrier is useless if it is not constructed before any carp get into Lake Michigan, which is why those repeated delays are risky.

The next step is to sign an agreement with the Army Corps to do a “preconstruction, engineering and design” study. But on March 1 — the day Illinois was supposed to make a decision on funding the study — Pritzker asked for more time so that his administration could work with other states to share the costs.

The good news is that Pritzker recognizes the threat posed by the carp and supports the project after four years of opposition by the Rauner administration. And it makes sense to get help from other Great Lakes states, which also would be hurt if carp get into the lakes.

The non-federal cost of the first year of the three-year PED study is estimated at $2 million. That’s a sensible investment for Illinois, particularly because other states might chip in. Local government agencies could help, too, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which could provide engineering expertise.

Until that study is completed, we won’t know the total cost of the new barrier. And the Army Corps can’t get started on the study without a non-federal sponsor, such as Illinois.

On Feb. 26, 13 members of Illinois’ congressional delegation sent a letter to Pritzker urging that the PED study get started promptly.

After years of delay, work on this project must move quickly.

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EDITORIAL: Protecting our Great Lakes is a challenge that transcends politics