Deal reached on Great Lakes invasive carp project

E&E NEWS PM By Miranda Willson

07/01/2024 04:28 PM EDT

Silver carp, an invasive species that officials are trying to keep out of the Great Lakes, jumping in the Fox River in Illinois. | Ryan Hagerty/Fish and Wildlife Service

Illinois and Michigan signed an agreement with the Biden administration Monday to kick off a long-awaited $1 billion project that will help prevent invasive carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The agreement will allow for the construction of the Brandon Road Interbasin Project to block and deter the invasive fish that are now widespread in the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

A carp invasion in the Great Lakes could have devastating consequences for the health of the waterbodies as well as for recreational opportunities and the U.S. economy. The Army Corps of Engineers has identified the Brandon Road project, which has been in the works since the early 2000s, as the best way to prevent the fish from reaching the lakes.

The agreement unleashes $274 million in federal funds for the project, which would cost as an estimated $1.15 billion in total.

“Today’s agreement will help us get shovels in the ground as soon as possible on the critical Brandon Road project,” Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “The Great Lakes are the beating heart of Michigan’s economy, and Brandon Road will help us protect local communities and key industries, including fishing and boating, that support tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.”

Since their introduction in the southern U.S. in the 1970s, Asian carp have made their way northward. Although a recent study found carp DNA in Lake Michigan, the species are not thought to be in the lakes at any significant levels, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The Brandon Road project consists of electric and other technological deterrents to be installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois. Ninety percent of the project is federally funded, with the remaining 10 percent coming from Michigan and Illinois.

Environmental advocates raised concerns earlier this year about the future of the project after reports of a dispute between Illinois and the Army Corps over project costs. Last spring, the Army Corps had released an updated cost estimate, which was nearly 13 percent higher than the project cost as estimated in 2019.

“The good news is the state of Illinois, the state of Michigan and the Army Corps of Engineers are moving forward together to take the serious action steps needed to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes,” Learner said.

Construction on the project could begin early next year, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

“The signing of the Brandon Road Project Agreement is historic and will help protect our fishery, our economy and quality of life,” Marc Smith, policy director for the group, said in a statement. “Keeping invasive carp out of the Great Lakes is a national priority.”

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