Local Editorials

Our view: New governors need to preserve old partnership

Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker speaks after he is elected Nov. 6 in Chicago.
Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker speaks after he is elected Nov. 6 in Chicago.

It can be easy to overlook the problem an invasive aquatic species presents, especially in winter months when recreational river use is at an absolute minimum.

But officials in Great Lakes states haven’t stopped being concerned about keeping Asian carp out of the vital ecosystems. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Michigan counterpart, Rick Snyder, are talking money these days, as Illinois will take $8 million from Michigan toward the effort to keep the fish in the Illinois River and out of Lake Michigan.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the money is on hold until 2028.

We’re not marine biologists, and neither is the governor, although he does have access to professionals. As such, we’re intrigued by Illinois’ plan to enhance commercial fishing strategies in the Upper Illinois River and pools in Alton, La Grange and Peoria. Rauner would like the
$8 million now for those efforts. He said the money could fund doubling of current contractual commercial fishing and monitoring and significantly reduce Asian carp breeding and juvenile populations.

His urgency makes sense since the next major development isn’t on the table for 2022. That year officials plan to start construction at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, in Will County, on “a first-of-its-kind flushing lock, engineered channel and acoustic fish deterrent with an electric barrier system to prevent the upstream transfer of Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species,” according to the state.

This one carries a price tag of $800 million and will take six years to build, which means we’re in something of a race against nature.

“Gov. Snyder’s offer of operations and maintenance support isn’t of much use until the Brandon project is complete in 2028,” Rauner said in a news release earlier this week. “In that context, the Michigan offer lacks the true sense of urgency required to protect the Great Lakes for the next decade.”

Rauner and Snyder are lame duck Republicans, although term limits are responsible for Snyder leaving office in January, whereas the voters decided Rauner’s time was over. They’re also both successful venture capitalists with plenty of life left to live outside government. Rauner seems deeply committed to this particular cause, and we salute his efforts here on the way out the door.

It remains to be seen how J.B. Pritzker will handle the issue in Illinois, and the same question is open for Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. Both are Democrats, but this need not be an issue colored by politics, as the fish certainly don’t care who controls the executive branch. These bodies of water are broadly important, and we urge all four of these politicians to ensure both a smooth transition but also continued cooperation between the states and presenting a united front to the federal government.

Rauner has already pledged to brief Pritzker’s team on Snyder’s fair-share funding formula for operations and maintenance of anti-invasion efforts, which is a good sign we might be able to expect a long-term partnership.

Far be it for us to tell Michigan lawmakers how to spend their taxpayers’ dollars, but we strongly suggest the incoming and outgoing governors seriously examine the potential for $8 million to buy the time needed to keep this fight alive before the Brandon Road effort begins, and for Pritzker’s team to take seriously the experience and advice gathered during the Rauner administration.

Nothing is promised in this battle, but we’re glad to see our elected officials taking steps they think put us in the best step to succeed, and hope the new crop continue down the same path.

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