Chicago’s seasonal ritual of boat parades may be scuttled as five states ask a judge to head off an invasion of Asian carp by blocking access to Lake Michigan.
Boats come out of winter storage along the Chicago and Calumet rivers each spring and motor through locks into the lake, where they harbor until autumn. The city schedules lifts of movable bridges twice a week to accommodate tall masts.
Michigan and four other states will argue at a Sept. 7 hearing that one way to shut out the carp is to close the locks. Boaters in the third-largest U.S. city say that would strand them in dry dock or, for sailboats, cost thousands of dollars to have vessels transported overland.
“Closing off the locks just seems like cutting off a lifeblood for a lot of boaters in this town,” said Glennon Schaffner, 45, an architect and retail executive who keeps his 30-foot Chris-Craft powerboat, the Maru II, at the Goose Island Boatyard on the north branch of the Chicago River, about 3 miles from the lake.
Boatyard owners are concerned that customers will abandon their facilities close to the city for those far enough away that they wouldn’t be affected by carp-fighting measures.
“We are very nervous about the situation,” said Rick Haislip, general manager of the Goose Island Boatyard, which stores as many as 400 powerboats. “Boat owners are worried if they pull boats out this fall, they will not be able to get back into the lake next spring.”
Hogging the Plankton
Asian carp, which grow as big as 100 pounds (45 kilograms), escaped into the Mississippi River after being imported to cleanse fish ponds and sewage lagoons. Their diet includes the plankton that native species need to survive, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania contend that the carp threaten the region’s $7.09 billion sport and commercial fishing industry. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow in Chicago will hear evidence in the lawsuit filed in July by attorneys general for those states, charging that Illinois and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers haven’t done enough to keep the fish out of the lakes.
“We have here a carp highway,” Robert Reichel, an attorney for Michigan, said in an appearance before Dow last month. The Great Lakes and Mississippi are connected by the Illinois River and by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel. The man-made channels were dug about a century ago to flush the city’s waste away from its Lake Michigan water supply and into the Mississippi.
Closing the locks is one of several proposals put before Dow. The states’ other suggestions include additional netting and screens as well as poisoning the fish with the insecticide Rotenone.
The Army Corps already has installed two electric-current barriers along the bottom of the canal to prevent the fish from passing, and a third is under construction.
“Closing the locks would certainly be the swiftest and most powerful solution, but certainly not the only step that can be taken to protect the Great Lakes,” said Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox.
Opponents of separating the lake and rivers include tour-boat operators and industrial and agricultural interests that rely upon the region’s channels to transport cargo and crops.
“Plaintiffs do an artful job of creating panic,” the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the agency that controls the area’s waterways, wrote in its filing with Dow.
Traces of carp DNA have been found in Calumet Harbor, a cove southeast of downtown that is part of the lake.
“Once in the lake, it would be very difficult to control” the fish, according to the states’ complaint.
While they recognize the threat that the invasive fish pose, Chicago boaters question the lawsuit’s reasoning.
“There is no way to prevent the carp from getting into Lake Michigan,” said Jeff Pierce, founder of Windy City Yacht Brokerage LLC, who owns a 52-foot Jefferson Monticello powerboat, the Broke-R. “Even if they close the locks, spring flooding will allow them to get into the lake.”
Pierce could find some unexpected support on a cabin cruiser docked this week at the city’s Monroe Harbor: the Parrent family of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Craig, Danielle and their three children were on the first week of a yearlong voyage from Lake Michigan, down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, up the East Coast on the Atlantic Ocean, and through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“Of course we don’t want to see the Asian carp up in our waters,” said Danielle Parrent, a 35-year-old homemaker. “But I imagine if I were from Chicago, I would hope there would be a different way -- that they’d get creative and find a new way instead of closing the lock system.”
The case is State of Michigan v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 10cv4457, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).