National Government

Feds revise schedule for crafting Asian carp plan

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a revised schedule Friday for developing a plan to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, but members of Congress said it falls short of a deadline set by a recently enacted law.

The corps' regional office in Chicago said it would release a report in late 2013 with options for blocking potential pathways between the lakes and the Mississippi River basin for the voracious carp and other invasive species that can disrupt ecosystems and cause huge economic losses.

It will include extensive information about each alternative, such as engineering designs, cost estimates and assessments of how they would affect the environment, said Jack Drolet, program manager for the Corps study.

But before any project could be carried out, the assistant secretary of the Army would have to endorse it. The corps then would conduct additional analyses, and Congress would have to authorize and fund the project. The revised schedule has no timetable for those steps, or for beginning work on any structures that might be built to seal off the two giant watersheds.

"We're pursuing this very aggressively, using all the resources we can," Drolet said.

The corps began its study in 2009, as alarm grew that bighead and silver carp might reach the Great Lakes and out-compete native fish for food, endangering a $7 billion fishing industry. They have infested the Mississippi and many of its tributaries, including the Illinois River, which flows toward Lake Michigan.

An electric barrier in a Chicago-area shipping canal is designed to halt their advance. But scientists have detected their DNA beyond the barrier within a few miles of the lake. Several independent studies have called for building dams or other structures that would permanently separate the drainage basin, a step sought by five states and an American Indian tribe in a federal lawsuit. The Army Corps of Engineers says that's among the options it will consider.

Congress originally gave the corps until 2015 to finish its study. But a bill enacted in June moved the deadline to January 2014. It was sponsored by Republican Rep. Dave Camp and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, both of Michigan.

They said Friday the corps' new schedule wasn't good enough.

"The Army Corps of Engineers' refusal to follow the law and submit a complete plan to stop Asian carp is completely unacceptable," Stabenow said. Camp said he would "hold the corps accountable for openly flouting the direction given to it by Congress."

Drolet said the corps was promising much more than it had earlier this year, when it agreed to release a set of options by the end of 2013. Providing engineering and cost data with each of the alternative measures will make the report more useful, he said.

"Though the expedited time frame will be challenging, we will make the .... report as comprehensive as possible," he said.

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