AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A member of Congress from Michigan offered legislation Wednesday to force closure of two shipping locks on Chicago-area waterways, escalating a feud between Great Lakes states over how to prevent an invasion of environmentally destructive Asian carp.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks, would be denied money to open them under an amendment that Republican Dave Camp hopes to attach to a government spending bill. A vote is expected Wednesday or Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
“It is long past time that the House of Representatives has an up-or-down vote on closing the locks to protect the Great Lakes ecosystem and the 800,000 jobs committed to the tourism and recreational fishing industries,” Camp said in a statement. “Every day the Great Lakes are put at greater risk.”
Illinois Republican Judy Biggert said she would lead opposition to the amendment, calling it a “short-sighted and ineffective” measure that would cost the Chicago economy billions.
The locks are located in a network of rivers and canals linking Lake Michigan with the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, which are infested with bighead and silver carp — both Asian species. Voracious eaters and prolific breeders, they have outcompeted native fish for food and become the dominant species in many sections of the rivers.
Scientists say if Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could gobble enough plankton to destabilize the food chain and damage the $7 billion fishing industry. Silver carp also hurtle from the water when startled, sometimes hitting boaters with bone-shattering force. The lakes’ recreational boating industry is valued at $16 billion.
Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania are suing in federal court to close the locks, which could provide the carp a pathway to Lake Michigan. An electric barrier appears to be holding most of them back, but scientists have detected their DNA in the water above the barrier.
The U.S. Supreme Court twice rejected the states’ request for immediate closure last year, as did a federal district judge. Their lawsuit is now pending in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Camp and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan last year unsuccessfully sponsored bills to close the locks, which Stabenow described as “the most effective short-term method of preventing this potential disaster.”
Opponents say the locks, which raise and lower vessels on the waterways, are leaky structures that might not block the carp’s advance even if closed. The carp could slip through during flooding or reach the lake through other routes, they say.
In a letter to House members, a business coalition called UnLock Our Jobs said about $16 billion worth of freight is hauled through the locks each year, including coal, chemicals and building materials.
“As a result of lock closure, local businesses would fail, jobs would be lost, and maritime industries — from tours to tow boats — would be decimated,” Biggert said.
The states’ lawsuit also calls for severing the man-made connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to halt invasive species migrations. The Army Corps is studying that possibility but says its report won’t be finished until 2015.