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Stalling fight against Asian carp threatens Great Lakes

• Mar 8, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Government often moves at a glacial pace, but a recent freeze in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes threatens to reverse important, albeit long overdue, progress.

The corps, last week, was scheduled to release draft results of a study two years in the making that many hoped would provide a workable plan to combat the invasive species' advance through Illinois rivers toward Lake Michigan. But a spokesman for the government agency said the release was "deferred" at the ninth hour.

The delay follows a Feb. 23 letter sent to President Donald Trump by 16 members of Congress asking the new administration to stall the draft proposal until after appointment is made to lead the civil works division for the Army. The letter from lawmakers who predominantly serve constituents in Illinois and Indiana argued the Corps of Engineers shouldn't make hasty recommendations regarding the future of the Chicago-area shipping channels that threaten to serve as the gutter through which the invasive carp could trickle into the Great Lakes.

Corps officials began working on the draft plan in April 2015, an effort many expected would include upgrades at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois. The site is a few miles downstream from electrical barriers that now serve as the only deterrent to keep the fish from continuing north toward the lake.

The plan's final version was scheduled for a 2019 release, but the recent delay likely will impact that timeline.

Pausing the release triggered a barrage of criticism from a cadre of both lawmakers and Great Lakes guardians. But the most recent halt is only the latest in what seems like an unending flow of moves against any real action to stop the unwanted species from poking its head into Lake Michigan.

Some have launched attempts to spin the issue into a partisan wrestling match, but the reluctance to take real steps toward halting the invasion is nothing new.

Little has been accomplished to address the Asian carp spread since the 1970s when the imported fish escaped Southern fish farm operations and entered the Mississippi River system. Since then, the fish have migrated north in a relentless march, until seven years ago a live big head carp — one of two species moving toward the Great Lakes — was captured in a Chicago-area canal just 6 miles from Lake Michigan's shoreline.

Experts predict the carp would devastate the Great Lakes ecosystem through out-competing native species, as they have in several other locations.

The latest delay is a symptom of a much larger threat to the Great Lakes: special interests. It appears whomever is behind the delay is adept at working both sides of the political spectrum to impede the fight against Asian carp.

It's time for our representatives in Washington, D.C., to set aside their partisan hand wringing and protect their home state's namesake.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE (AP)

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