Somewhere, an $8 million dollar report on the future of Lake Michigan is locked away. The subject: how to stop the long-feared invasion of destructive Asian carp into Lake Michigan.
That study, performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was supposed to have been released in February. But three months later, the findings have not been revealed.
“We’re not sure why this happened, but the reality is we’ve got great ideas on paper that just need to see the light of day,” says Joel Brammeier, CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “The fact is, young Asian carp are moving closer to Lake Michigan, they’re an increasing threat to the Great Lakes, and millions of people around the region want to see this problem solved.
The carp, known for their borderline-comical leaps in the air as passing boats churn up the waters, can be devastating to native fish populations. For years, the only impediment to their migration up the Des Plaines River has been an electric barrier in the Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville. But lake activists remain wary.
“The electrical barriers that are already in place have always been imperfect,” Brammeier said. “They don’t do a great job of stopping small fish from getting through, and it’s been shown that barges and ships that move through the electrical barrier can actually carry fish back and forth with them in their wake.”
The Corps of Engineers study was designed to determine if a better barrier could be constructed downstream, specifically at a structure known as the Brandon Road lock just south of Joliet. But after the Presidential election, a flurry of letters pro-and-con began flying toward the new Trump administration.
“We urge you to postpone the release of the Brandon Road Tentatively Selected Plan,” a group of GOP lawmakers told President Trump, arguing that the carp problem is well under control, and that the leading edge of the pesky fish’s population remains fully 10 miles downriver from the site of the proposed improvements.
“We do not believe the Corps of Engineers should release the Brandon Road Lock TSP under acting leadership,” stated the letter, signed by 16 members of Congress from Great Lakes states. And the February 28 release date came and went with no report published.
“I’m very concerned about millions of dollars being wasted on a barrier that may not be needed,” Decatur Congressman Rodney Davis told NBC5. “We have to make sure that we take the progress that has been made as a very positive step!”
What’s more, Davis made clear he doesn’t put much stock in the Army Corps’ findings.
“They study things to death,” he said. “as many studies that we’ve seen recently released, some of them aren’t too accurate!”
Davis said he believed the new administration deserves time to examine the study, and “make sure that it’s accurate.”
“We definitely want to see what’s in the Corps study,” said John Quail, director of watershed planning for Friends of the Chicago River. “They’ve put a lot of time and effort into this study, so we want to see it released so people can take a look and see what they have to say.”
Quail noted that release of the study doesn’t mean anything will necessarily be done. In fact, one possible outcome would be a potential recommendation from the Corps to continue with the status quo.
For now, no one knows what’s in the report. And a request from NBC5 for comment from the White House went unanswered.
“The amount that this kind of study costs is a pittance to the kind of impact that an Asian carp invasion would have on the Great Lakes,” Brammeier said. “Frankly there’s a faction out there that would just as soon see the status quo maintained, and status quo just isn’t going to cut it for the Great Lakes.”