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Study questions carp fight costs, benefits

A study released Thursday questions costs benefits some options offered by U.S. Army Corps Engineers for blocking invasive species such

A study released Thursday questions the costs and benefits of some options offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for blocking invasive species such as Asian carp from the Great Lakes. | File photo

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:26AM



An analysis released Thursday questions the full cost, as well as the benefits, of an Army Corps of Engineers report that offers, among other options, a physical separation of Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River to control the movement of Asian carp.

DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman, who in 2010 assessed the impact to the Chicago economy of such a drastic measure, said the billions proposed to be spent ultimately might be money wasted.

The idea of barriers to cut off the lake from waterways such as the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal and the Calumet River previously had been brought up as a solution to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species into the Great Lakes. The corps report, released last month, attempted to put a price tag on that and other alternatives, including the construction of new locks and water treatment plants to combat the fish.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has argued against a full separation of the two watersheds, commissioned Schwieterman’s study, which recommends further study of the “expected benefits and the accompanying risks” of the options, particularly the use of physical barriers.

Environmental groups have lobbied for isolating the two watersheds. Allowing the Asian carp, which has no natural predators, to reach the Great Lakes would endanger the lakes’ roughly $7 billion fishing industry, they say.

In his 2010 study, also commissioned by the state chamber, Schwieterman estimated cutting off links between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan would add $228 million a year in extra costs to move goods now shipped by barge.

Some of the options suggested by the corps, which isn’t endorsing any one alternative, would significantly worsen flooding in the Chicago area, resulting in a need for Deep Tunnel-like reservoirs and underground tunnels to store and carry stormwater.

While the corps estimates complete separation could cost as much as $18.4 billion and take a quarter-century to complete, Schwieterman said the actual cost, in the long term, could exceed $31 billion. He contends, for instance, the corps is too conservative in calculating land acquisition costs associated with some of the alternatives.

He noted that huge upfront costs — including acquiring land and the flood mitigation measures that would have to be in place before barriers were built — would hamper the “economic viability” of the proposal. Also, the carp and other nuisance species targeted already could have stablished themselves in Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes by the time separation is completed, he points out, and the corps acknowledged in its report.

Schwieterman said that in the amount of time it would take to achieve separation, scientific advancements could bring about faster and less-expensive methods for stopping the carp’s advance.

Schwieterman said that because complete separation of the two watersheds isn’t a surefire solution to stopping the carp from gaining a foothold in the Great Lakes — another thing the corps acknowledges — securing the huge amounts of money needed to carry it off would require “political salesmanship” on the highest level compared with less-costly proposals.

It also would compete for federal funding with other major infrastructure projects, potentially resulting in a “high risk of (that option) being left to linger” once construction begins and future funding commitments vanish.



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