By T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
A proposal to use electricity as a means of blocking Asian carp at Lock and Dam No. 1 gained juice Feb. 20 at the State Capitol at a strategy session of policy makers.
Additionally, a heightened focus on keeping a back door shut upstream on the Mississippi River also sparked debate at Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s fourth Asian Carp Summit.
“Ultimately, we have to act,” Dayton urged the policy makers. “We have to do the best we can,” he said.
Not everyone believes this has been happening. Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, and other House members have been skeptical of a recent Barr Engineering report recommending the use of sound, air bubbles and lights to block carp at Lock and Dam No. 1 — often referred to as the Ford Dam — derisively calling the sensory array a “disco” approach.
“I don’t know a bubble and light show is the way to go with Asian carp,” said Hackbarth, who portrayed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as steering the direction of the state’s carp response.
Finding a solution for stopping the invading fish involves everyone, not just the administration, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr insisted.
“At the end of the day, we succeed together or we fail together,” he said.
Hackbarth urged the governor to listen to an electric-barrier proposal by Geoffrey Griffin of G-Cubed, a company with 49 fish barriers world-wide, Griffin said.
While Barr officials indicated their barrier study was limited by a lack of relevant data, they suggested the so-called “disco” approach could prove 90 percent effective.
For his part, Griffin pitches his barriers as 100 percent, though noting they have not been used against Asian carp.
Even so, by applying about 1.8 volts of electricity per square inch of fish, the barrier would deter the carp from swimming upstream.
“We’re looking at stunning the fish,” Griffin said.
Additionally, by using insulated concrete in constructing the barrier, the corrosive effects of electricity on the lock surfaces could be minimized, he explained.
A couple of snags for the proposal surfaced.
For one thing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to approve any barrier proposal for use on its locks.
A Corps official indicated that while reviewing the “disco” proposal could take six months, it could take longer for a proposal using electricity.
Landwehr already had lamented that it was unlikely a fish barrier could placed at the lock by 2014 as initially envisioned.
University of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Institute Director Peter Sorensen argued no one really knows how the carp would react to a fish barrier.
“Frankly, how stupid are they?” Sorensen asked.
Still, Landwehr indicated willingness by the agency to foot the $500,000 bill for G-Cubed to do an engineering proposal for Lock and Dam No. 1.
Griffin indicated the company could turn the proposal around in a few months.
In terms of paying the electric bill, the cost of the power for the barrier would be about $5,000 a year, he said.
“Regardless what they (DNR) say they’re going to do, we better do a bill to make sure that they do,” Hackbarth said of pursuing legislation.
But focus also fell on a potential barrier upstream.
A number of policy makers, including Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, argued that a secure barrier exists at the St. Anthony Falls locks and dams in downtown Minneapolis.
The amount of river barge traffic at this end-point on the Mississippi River is modest compared to locks downstream.
A City of Minneapolis official indicated the city planned to close the Port of Minneapolis, and other officials theorized industries upstream using the locks might ship product by highway.
Others noted that recreational river traffic has already voluntarily lessened at the locks.
With the lock doors shut, the St. Anthony locks would provide a stout barrier downstream of the Coon Rapids Dam.
One nightmare scenario for state officials is having the carp find their way beyond Coon Rapids Dam into the Rum River at Anoka and threaten Lake Mille Lacs to the north.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar believes one obstacle in having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agree to closing the St. Anthony locks, even with virtually no traffic, is that the corps would view it as a dangerous precedent.
Although Klobuchar and others in the state congressional delegation have legislation pertaining to lock closures and the advancing carp, nothing has passed.
It requires an Act of Congress to alter the Army Corps’ orders to keep the locks open for river traffic.
Constructing fish barriers can be expensive.
Barr Engineering estimated the cost of the “disco” barrier as high as $19 million.
The company estimated the barrier’s annual operation and maintenance costs as high as $250,000.
ECM Capitol reporter Tim Budig is at [email protected]