Michigan Mach II: Interesting Asian carp info for the Supreme Court

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The State of Michigan submitted a renewed request to the Supreme Court requesting immediate closure of locks in Chicago’s waterways today as part of a last-ditch attempt to thwart the Asian carp advance on the Great Lakes. The renewed request is based upon some interesting and relevant new evidence that makes for pretty interesting reading...

The first piece of new evidence for the Court’s consideration is that the dreaded Carp have actually entered the Great Lakes through the locks Michigan seeks to have closed. Not only does Michigan cite new tests that show the fishes' DNA in Lake Michigan's Calumet Harbor; but this evidence is brought forth with a not-so-subtle allegation that the Army Corps of Engineers, a Defendant in the Michigan case, sat on those test results until after the Supreme Court responded to the first request for mandatory closure of the locks. I have no idea if this is the case, though it was certainly odd that the admission of potential proof of carp in the Lake came immediately on the heels of the Court’s announcement.

The second piece of evidence is in the form of an affidavit from Professor John Taylor of Wayne State that skewers many of the tales of economic gloom and doom coming from the defenders of the obviously antiquated and inadequate Chicago Waterway infrastructure through which the invasive species make their way to the Lakes. While they labeled those of us calling for action to stop the Carp as “alarmist” and “Chicken Littles," these defenders of the status quo were spinning yarns of economic ruin and immediate devastation should the locks come to be closed. Professor Taylor’s concise study lays that myth of economic ruin to rest. He concludes that changes in the operation of the barriers to limit movement of the carp would:

  • Result in an overall increase in jobs
  • Affect only 1% of regional commerce (significantly less than had been advertised elsewhere)
  • Cost a grand total of $70 million (admittedly, that’s a lot of scratch, but only a fraction of what others had claimed---and it pales compared to the potential impacts on the region’s much bigger tourism and fishing industries)
  • Increase truck traffic by one-tenth of one percent (contradicting suggestions of nightmarish traffic jams)
  • Limited, localized impact on already declining sectors (as opposed to crippling economy-wide carnage that had been put forward)

Now, certainly the Army Corps of Engineers and others will sneer that this is a study from Michigan, so it must be biased. But throughout this slow motion carp disaster, it has been interesting to see the incredible lack of transparency in the data relating to the role that this waterway plays in our local, regional, and national economy. Despite digging from NGOs (and, guessing from the questions I have gotten repeatedly, a slew of journalists), the numbers necessary to truly evaluate the claims of collapse have been conveniently difficult to find.

But another study comes to mind. One that I think can be fairly described as totally lacking bias, or suffering from the heat of battle. In 2007, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs put out “The Global Edge: An Agenda for Chicago’s Future” which looked at just what was necessary to keep Chicago business modern and competitive. There’s an entire chapter on Transportation needs…

…with nary a mention of barge traffic, aside from referring to it as having been important in the 19th century.

The report does support what we have been saying from the get-go on this issue. We think that the carp are a symptom of a larger problem: aging, dated infrastructure that no longer does what it was intended to do very well. It is not just the canals. It’s the way we deal with sewage. It’s the jumbled pretzel of railroad lines that delay delivery of goods even though this is the nation’s biggest hub and the world’s 5th biggest intermodal handler of shipping containers. And it’s the invasive species superhighway of these waterways that unnecessary threaten 1/5 of the world’s fresh water. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' report painted the same picture a couple years ago before the Asian carp began menacing our beloved Lake. That report said that we need to modernize our infrastructure or wither and die.

We can do better than we are doing now with aging, failing, anachronistic infrastructure. We just need to stop dragging our feet, roll up our sleeves, and start to proactively build for the 21st Century. It starts with the carp---but it ends with a renewed and modern city with a global edge. Rather than fighting with Michigan, we should be engaging them and the rest of the Great Lakes community to improve our transportation, manage our water and protect our great ecological asset that gives us an economic edge: the largest fresh water resource in the Western Hemisphere: the Great Lakes. Especially while there are resources to get the job moving.


Asian Carp image by Kate.Gardiner via Flickr