Officials worry electric fish barrier
could be shock to boats
Published in the Duluth News Tribune January 12th, 2005
CHICAGO - Federal and state officials are trying to determine
whether a $9 million electric barrier being built to keep
the invasive Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan could
also be a hazard to boats in the Chicago Sanitary &
Officials have met for the last week to discuss safety
issues for boats that will pass through the electrical
current in the canal near Lemont.
Chuck Shea, the Army Corps of Engineers' project manager,
said testing would continue and there was a "slim
possibility" that the barrier would have to be turned
The barrier is designed to replace a temporary one at
Romeoville blocking the voracious carp, already found
in the Illinois River, from reaching the Great Lakes where
they could threaten other fish. Commercial shippers became
concerned about the barrier last spring when some barges
drifted into it, causing an arc that crew members spotted
flashing between two platforms.
No one was injured, but shippers worry the barrier could
be hazardous for ships carrying flammable materials.
"We don't want anybody to blow up," Coast Guard
Cmdr. David Fish said Tuesday. "We have to make this
safe while being sensitive to commercial concerns and
Shea said it was possible that the barge violated a rule
against tying up in the area.
"We think the result of this is some instructions
to people in the navigation industry and recreational
boaters on how they should navigate this area," he
said. "There could be problems if the wrong activities
go on on top of the barrier."
Biologists say the barrier is critical to protecting
the Great Lakes ecosystem and they expect the project
to go forward.
"This is a situation where safety concerns need
to be dealt with, and keep in mind the channel is an economic
engine as well as an environmental risk," said Joel
Brammeier, manager of the Lake Michigan Federation's habitat
recovery program. That recognition is a big part of the
reason the barriers were placed in locations where they
would interfere least with commercial shipping and recreational
boating, he said.
The new barrier is expected to cost $6.8 million in federal
funds and $2.2 million in state funds, with $1.7 million
of that coming from Illinois and the rest from other Great
The non-native Asian carp can grow to over 100 pounds
and devour food needed by other fish. If they get into
the Great Lakes, they could threaten a $4.5 billion sport
and commercial fishing industry.