Editorial

Brandon Road Comment Period Extended
November 27, 2017


Thanks in great part to the advocacy of The American Waterways Operators, the Rock Island Engineer District is extending the comment period for the Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) Brandon Road Draft Report on the anti-Asian carp measures proposed by the Corps of Engineers at the Brandon Road Lock & Dam on the Des Plaines River in Illinois.

As part of this extension, the Rock Island District is having another public hearing on December 5. The meeting will be held from 1–4 p.m. at the New Orleans Engineer District headquarters. Previous meetings were held in the Chicago area in September.

The Brandon Road proposal, released in July (after Congress forced its release although the Trump administration was seeking to delay it), calls for a complex array of measures including water jets, sound barriers and other structural features at the lock.

The December 5 meeting is in New Orleans because so many of the barge companies and shippers who would be affected operate from there. The AWO has pushed for a public meeting in Houston as well.

The Corps claims the Brandon Road site is the best choke point to halt the movement of the carp.

But are the carp, in fact, moving? A few media scares have resulted from isolated carp found past the electric barriers. But Asian carp are probably one of the most closely monitored fish species in history. The evidence (including autopsies of the fish) strongly suggests those isolated individuals did not get there by swimming. The responsible federal agencies have downplayed the incidents.

Apart from those incidents, all the remaining evidence suggests that the non-structural carp control methods currently in use are working well. The breeding population in the Illinois River has not moved north in years. Efforts by the various agencies and partners in the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee have removed more than a million pounds from the upper Illinois River alone in 2016. Studies by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources suggest that carp populations have been reduced by as much as 68 percent.

The more stakeholders learn about the proposed project, the more support seems to evaporate. Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, who is head of the Illinois River Coordinating Council, has been a strong critic of the proposal—not least because her financially challenged state would have to pony up $90 million of the total $300 million in expenses, plus $10 million annually in maintenance costs.

After a recent tour of the Illinois River that included a visit to the towboat Windy City, accompanied by Del Wilkins, president of Illinois Marine Towing and an AWO board member, Sanguinetti said that the impact of the proposed measures on shipping have not been adequately studied.

Regarding the noise measures alone, the Corps has admitted that “additional research is needed” and refinement is “expected to occur as the study progresses.” This raises the question: Why implement any measure whose effectiveness is not assured?

We don’t know whether the Corps has modeled safety risks to the infrastructure or its expected effects on locking times.

More seriously, the use of electrical charges in the water will pose risks to transiting mariners or others who might fall in.

Given all these caveats and more, it’s clear that the Brandon Road proposal as it stands is not ready for prime time.

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