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Great Lakes Article:

Officials worry electric fish barrier could be shock to boats
Associated Press
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 & Ship Canal.

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 off temporarily.

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 the environment."

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 Lakes states.

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.

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